The Conservative-led authority has a statutory duty to monitor air quality because exposure to nitrogen dioxide [NO2] is linked to heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease.
And work is needed to reduce the level of NO2, which exceeds an EU-set objective level on the frequently congested St John’s Road.
Town Hall leaders are now consulting with the public on their Air Quality Action Plan [2018-2023], which contains a number of proposals aimed at reducing pollution.
Cllr Ronen Basu, TWBC Cabinet member for Sustainability, said: “We are leading a cautious approach. The plan supports initiatives to alleviate congestion and advocates switching more car journeys to active travel which can support improvements to air quality and enhance health.”
Proposals contained in the plan include:
– Working with taxi, private hire and bus companies to encourage use of low emission vehicles.
– Targeting drivers who leave the engine running while stationary with awareness campaigns and possible enforcement.
– Providing electric charging points in all strategic development sites.
– Building property with fewer parking spaces near to the town centre to encourage walking.
A flagship policy is the expansion of the Co-Wheels Car Club, which offers members the use of a car on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Since launching in 2014, it has attracted a membership of 250 and six distinct white Nissan cars are currently in operation – with the possibility of soon adding at least two more cars in The Pantiles and in High Brooms.
TWBC provided financial help using monies gathered in Section 106 agreements to get Co-Wheels started in the borough. It was the first of its kind in Kent.
The scheme has grown organically and now pays for itself. The council estimates that that during the day, on average, two cars are in use at any one time.
“We have high usage and need to put more cars in to make them as readily available as possible,” added Cllr Basu. “It has been a huge success considering we had just one car to begin with.”
The proposals additionally tie in with other TWBC schemes, including the Local Plan – under which 692 homes will be built every year until 2033. The council has also not ruled out a bike-share scheme.
Proposals are likely to be covered by existing budgets or possible grant funding.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Ellis, who viewed plans on the council’s communities board, said: “I feel at the moment there needs to be something more tangible – especially considering St John’s Road is the most polluted in the borough and one schoolchildren are using.”
Party colleague Cllr Peter Lidstone added: “We welcome the aspirations of the Air Quality Action Plan.“The congestion on the A26 is not only frustrating, it’s damaging to the health and wellbeing of residents and schoolchildren, so recommendations for cleaner buses and taxis, and 20mph in residential roads are all welcomed.
“However, we have absolutely missed an opportunity with the A26 cycle route. Over £1million of funding was available, and all that we have to show is some red paint.
“Unless the council can provide safe cycling along key routes, and start to tackle congestion, then the plan will never deliver on its promises.”
Cllr Basu added: “I think most people are onboard and are willing to engage.
“Look at how people have got behind the movement to reduce plastic. If people become aware, they will try. Most people never like change, but when they see the benefits we find they can be willing.
“The aim of the consultation is to make people aware we are renewing the action plan and we want people to engage with us and feedback. We welcome all ideas.”
The consultation runs until October 28 and can be found by visiting tunbridgewells.gov.uk and searching the consultation tab.
The council’s Cabinet is set to discuss the results in February.