"Who's culpable if someone dies because of poor air quality?" resident demands

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A row over air quality in South Ribble saw several members of the public walk out of a council meeting, with one claiming:  “There is no democracy”.

Charnock ward resident Graham Eastham demanded to know who was culpable if somebody died as a result of air pollution which, he said, was being worsened by housing development in the area.

Air quality has been found to be worse than recommended levels in five areas in South Ribble

Air quality has been found to be worse than recommended levels in five areas in South Ribble

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He said planning permission for nearly 2,900 new homes in his own and neighbouring wards - including the proposed Pickering’s Farm site between Lostock Hall and Penwortham - risked adding double that number of cars to the roads in that part of the borough.

“Charnock has significantly higher than average hospital admissions for all causes, including coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - all conditions principally linked to motor vehicle emissions,” Mr. Eastham said, citing Public Health England data.

“So which is it to be, fulfilling housing targets or protecting the health and wellbeing of your residents?” he asked cabinet members.

Resident Graham Eastham

Resident Graham Eastham

There are currently five locations in South Ribble which have exceeded maximum recommended levels of nitrogen dioxide and have been designated Air Quality Management Areas. One of them is around Tardy Gate in Lostock Hall, an adjoining ward to Charnock.

Cllr Hughes said that a new road currently being built on the former Lostock Hall gas works - and due for completion this year - would ease traffic problems in the area. But he said South Ribble had no choice but to hit government housing targets.

“If we don’t allocate sites where we are going to put these houses, then any developer can come into South Ribble at any time, pitch his tent on any field he buys [and build on it].

“We have a statutory obligation to deliver houses whether we like it or not,” Cllr Hughes added.

South Ribble cabinet member Cliff Hughes

South Ribble cabinet member Cliff Hughes

But Mr. Eastham responded by asking the cabinet member whether he was “culpable” if somebody died as a result of planning policy.

“No,” Cllr Hughes replied - before the chair of the meeting, borough mayor John Rainsbury, told Mr. Eastham he would have to leave if he did not sit down.

Mr. Eastham said he would depart “gladly”, because “there is no democracy”.

Around half a dozen other members of the public followed.

Responding to an earlier question the same subject, council leader Margaret Smith said she was lobbying Lancashire County Council to ensure the necessary transport infrastructure was in place to minimise the impact of housing developments on South Ribble’s existing road network.

“We have just put together an air quality strategy [and will] put the pressure on the county council to make sure we can get air quality in this borough to an acceptable level.

“We are working incredibly hard to try and get this problem of traffic movement sorted - but it’s not something you can do overnight.

“I’ve been in many meetings emphasising that we need the infrastructure in first - it is becoming a mantra for me,” Cllr Smith said.

South Ribble is currently developing a joint local plan with neighbouring Chorley and Preston Councils, which could see housing targets shared across Central Lancashire.