Unlawful air pollution not unlawful: Hastings Council passes the Queensway Gateway road for the second time
December 18, 2015 by combehavendefenders
On Tuesday 15 December, members of the planning committee gathered to consider the planning application for the Queensway Gateway road for the second time. They had passed it last February, then it had been quashed after a legal challenge because of air pollution issues, and now here it was, raising its ugly head again.
Audience and council under scrutiny
The meeting was held at the White Rock Theatre, and was packed, with over 100 people present to witness democracy in action. Onlookers included two very large security guards and no fewer than six police officers (is that normal in a planning meeting?) There was also a BBC camera crew, and the meeting was filmed by at least three other people (including CHD), so the councillors could not have failed to be aware that they were under a great deal of scrutiny.
Fiddling with the figures…
SeaChange had managed by sleight of hand to reduce the air pollution at residential receptors (people’s houses) to fractionally below the lawful limit. However, pollution at ecological receptors remained above the limit, but John Shaw clearly didn’t think this was going to be an issue. What’s a little air pollution between friends when you want a new road?
Unlawful, but not unlawful
The planning consultant wheeled in for the occasion assured members of the committee that – air pollution and breaches of four (we’d say six) Hastings Borough Council policies notwithstanding -they were perfectly entitled to grant the planning application. Her key contention was that objectors had not supplied any law to show that passing an application with unlawful levels of air pollution was, er, unlawful. She also said. “There would be serious implications if an authority had to refuse planning permission in every instance where there was a breach of critical levels”. Which rather raises the question: what on earth is the point of having air pollution limits if a local authority can choose to ignore them at will?
Dodgy maths and overlooked emissions
Andrea from Combe Haven Defenders spoke against the application, pointing out not only the unlawful pollution, but also the dodgy maths in SeaChange’s new traffic report, the fact that no account had been taken of the VW scandal – which showed that some cars were pumping out 40x more pollutants than the manufacturers claimed – and the almost total failure of SeaChange’s other ‘job creation’ schemes just a stone’s throw from this one. She also raised the issue of climate change, something utterly ignored by Hastings Borough Council in their determination to get their road.
John Shaw takes the stand
John Shaw, director of SeaChange, gave a presentation to the committee next, although such was his mumbling that most of it probably passed over their heads. He was very keen to point out that the ’employment land’ (ie the business park which was supposedly the key reason for the road, but was barely mentioned in the meeting) was allocated in the Local Plan. He said that only 19.2% of the local wildlife site would be affected by the road – this is utterly disingenuous, as not only would cutting the site in half have a huge impact in terms of fragmentation of habitat, but if the planned business park is actually built, it would wipe out almost the entire site.
No unoccupied buildings!
Mr Shaw was asked a question by a councillor about unoccupied business sites nearby, and came up with the immortal line, “I’m not aware of any buildings on Queensway that are presently unoccupied”. And he’s right: there are no unoccupied buildings because there are – almost – no buildings at all on the sites that his company has cleared for development, destroying valuable habitat, and then just left standing empty.
‘Cleaner technology’ saves the day
In the question and answer part of the meeting, a number of questions about air pollution were addressed to Mr Parry, the representative of environmental consultant ACCON. Would the VW issue make any differece to emissions levels? Mr Parry was happy they would not. What would the likely scenario be in the future if the (currently relatively low in national terms) level of car ownership in Hastings rose? Mr Parry was confident that because of ‘cleaner technology’ in the future, the worst emissions from the road would be on the opening day – after that emissions would only go down. Wouldn’t the fact that the road would have three roundabouts mean that emissions would be increased because of the slower speed of traffic? No, because the roundabouts would actually improve the flow of traffic. It all sounded wonderful; after a few years, we could look forward to the prospect of Hollington Valley being traversed by 24,000 vehicles a day, but with no actual air pollution.
Planning committee members speak out – sort of
The planning committee were at least awake this time, and every one of them made some attempt, however feeble, to say a few words, perhaps stung by the criticism from the first time, when three of them failed to open their mouths throughout the meeting. Much of what was said was about traffic congestion, and how it would get so much worse on the Ridge when the Link road opened if the application wasn’t passed (perhaps that should have been thought about before the go-ahead was given for the link road).
In the discussion period, councillors raised various points, most of which showed very clearly how the land lay. “We are a nation of car drivers and air pollution can be bad wherever you are” said Sue Beaney.
Chair Richard Street commented that, “We had, I think it was just last week, a couple of crashes on junction road caused because motorists were sick and tired of waiting and stupidly pulled out when they shouldn’t have done. And that sort of thing can only get worse without this road so I will be supporting this application”.
Matthew Beaver told the committee how he drives to Tunbridge Wells daily, and is always held up in that area – this prompted a number of the audience to call out ‘Take the train!’ – and considered that air pollution would be worse without the QGR than with it (although there was absolutely no evidence to that effect).
Mike Edwards’ key concern seemed to be his health: “Now I live less than a mile from the hospital. As you can see I am rapidly ageing and I would hate to imagine a situation where I was taken ill and simply couldn’t get to the hospital because of the sheer volume of traffic” (isn’t that what ambulances with blue lights are for?).
Phil Scott said he hadn’t yet made his mind up. “I am concerned about the green issues that have been raised, the issues around wildlife, ecology and so forth, and equally the need to address some of those concerns about the traffic implications along the Ridge by building a road”.
Pointing out the obvious
Michael Wincott was the only one who pointed out the obvious: “However, there is no evidence, and this is a problem, there is no evidence as to what the pollution levels would be like without this.” Most of the other councillors were saying we had to have the road because pollution would be worse without it, but that was merely speculation, not evidence. Councillors should only have been considering the information in front of them – that the QGR would cause unlawful pollution – rather than taking into account their own thoughts and prejudices about what might happen if they didn’t allow the road.
Seven sheep raise their hands
And so to the vote. Michael Edwards proposed, Matthew Beaver seconded, and seven of the ten councillors raised their hands obediently (previously, all ten had voted unanimously for the application). Those who voted against were Michael Wincott, Judy Rogers, and – curiously, as he had previously not spoken except to give a short statement that sounded very much like support for the road – Alan Roberts.
And that was that. Unlawful air pollution, breaches of no fewer than six HBC policies, £15m of public money, all dealt with in a 23 minute debate. It was obvious from the start that this would happen: HBC wants their road, and HBC is determined to get their road.