After ranting on for years about Farnham’s Air Quality issues has someone, somewhere, finally listened to Jerry Hyman?
After following the powerful Environment Overview & Scrutiny Committee chaired by Farnham Resident councillor Jerry Hyman for some time it was only a question of time before he would force his, and the serious concerns of many others, including the Farnham Society, to be heard.
AND… NOW THEY HAVE!
Funny really when the webcasts of his meetings are either – not webcast at all – or they don’t seem to work most/all/some of the time!!
Cover up or what…? Accountability – what accountability?
• Air Quality Officer Ann Marie Wade – GONE!
• Executive Director Paul – Wen-am-I-leaving – GONE!
• Deputy Director – Damien, The Omen, Roberts – GONE!
• Council Leader during most of the period in question Robert Knowless … Has he gone… or is he just missing, most of the time?
• As for Julia – has she just put on her mask and gone to Potts?
WHO PAYS? We Do!
Roger Steel, a former borough councillor and member of Waverley’s executive, has criticised Waverley’s handling of Farnham’s air quality problem on behalf of the town planning watchdog the Farnham Society.
He told the Farnham Herald: “At the moment, Waverley judges that NO2 levels contravene safe limits set by European Union Regulations at three places in Farnham – two in The Borough and one in Wrecclesham Road. But with the correction of the local bias factor, I fully expect at least six to seven places to be exceeding that limit.
“We are concerned that there may now be further delay in the issuing of the 2016 Air Quality Report and subsequent air quality data which is needed so that appropriate measures can be taken to reduce the health risks to residents and retailers, and also so that well-informed planning decisions can be taken.
“Large developments such as East Street – which will increase traffic in the town centre by around 15 percent – should be well and truly put on the back burner until we know the full extent of the problem.”
Mr Steel added, although the content of the audit report and scope of the police investigation is unknown, he believes Waverley faces a substantial “six-figure” fine should it be found guilty of any wrong-doing, adding “if it is the case that Waverley knew its figures were wrong when submitting them to Defra, it could be very, very serious indeed”.
He continued: “The Environment Act 1995 makes clear that local authorities are obliged to monitor local air quality and submit their findings to Defra – and can be penalised if they break this law.
I’ve been writing to Waverley for years saying they are breaking this law, and the council’s leadership has got to take overall responsibility.”
WILL THEY WON’T THEY… NO! Because there is no accountability at Waverley Borough Council.
But the council is yet to release the audit report in the public domain or reissue its withdrawn 2016 air quality report – leaving a huge question mark as to whether Farnham has a pollution problem or not, at a time when planning appeals for more than 500 homes in the town area are to be determined in coming weeks.
Confirming the news, a police spokesman said: “Surrey Police is investigating following concerns reported to police over an official council environmental report. No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.”
A Waverley spokesman added: “The final version of the audit report has been received. The report has been passed onto the police, who are now investigating. We can’t say anymore until their investigation is completed.”
It comes after Waverley commissioned an independent review of its 2016 Air Quality Annual Status Report last August following complaints by the Farnham Society and Farnham-based air quality expert David Harvey that council officers had got their figures wrong.
This error was confirmed by red-faced council chiefs a month later – calling into question the validity of previous annual air quality reports that have used the same basis of calculation, and prompting a comprehensive audit of Waverley’s air quality monitoring and reporting arrangements.
Waverley is duty-bound to submit an annual air quality status report to DEFRA after an Air Quality Management Area was declared in Farnham in 2004, following the discovery of excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which has been linked to as many as 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.
The council’s latest Air Quality Annual Status Report, published last May, claimed air pollution – and specifically levels of NO2 only “slightly exceeds” the national objective at three monitoring stations in Farnham; two in The Borough and one in Wrecclesham Road.
However, this was challenged by Mr Harvey, the director of West Street firm ADM Ltd, who believes Waverley has dramatically under-estimated the problem after miscalculating two ‘bias adjustment factors’ used to counter discrepancies between the council’s monitoring equipment.
Waverley’s situation bears painful similarities with that faced by another unitary authority, Cheshire East Council, which admitted ‘falsifying’ its own air quality figures last year, requiring hundreds of planning applications to be reviewed and prompting an ongoing police investigation.
Responding to the criminal investigation into Waverley’s own botched report this week, Mr Harvey told the Herald: “I am baffled as to why what seemed to be a case of discourteous incompetence has been referred to the police to investigate.
“There does seem to be similarities with the between what is going on at Waverley and East Cheshire where the police were called in to investigate what appears to have been ‘deliberate and systematic manipulation of data’ and perhaps is pointing to a wider problem with how local authorities are undertaking their statutory duties to review and assess air quality.
“I have no idea what the police have actually been asked to investigate and cannot understand how it could have come to this.
“I have been in contact with Waverley since first drawing attention to the problem in May last year and have been impressed by how pro-active they have been since understanding that there was a problem with the data.
“I hope that they will now release the corrected and update 2016 monitoring report so that we can understand whether this is actually an air quality problem in Farnham.”