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Cardiff to spend ‘clean air fund’ on making a road wider and the pavement narrower

14 Jun 2021 4 minute read
Castle Street in June 2021, Cardiff Picture: Alex Seabrook

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

Cardiff council will use £300,000 of ‘clean air funding’ to make a road wider and the pavement narrower on a city centre street.

Before the pandemic, Castle Street was one of the most polluted areas in Wales. Last summer, the four-lane road was closed to all traffic.

Buses and taxis were then allowed to use two lanes of the road from last autumn, while the pavement was made wider for pedestrians and a new segregated cycle lane was installed.

This autumn, the road will reopen to all cars. The wider pavement will be removed and replaced with a third lane of traffic. This work will be paid for by a ‘clean air fund’.

The Welsh Government’s clean air fund was set up to help local councils reduce air pollution. But modelling from Cardiff council shows the changes to Castle Street will increase levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful air pollutant, by more than half what they are currently.

After they were revealed last week, the controversial plans received criticism as “retrograde”, and “a sad day for air pollution”. Many voiced their concerns on social media, including about the use of the clean air fund to pay for changes which will increase air pollution on the street.

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner, said: “I would say it appears to be a retrograde step, and the fact that over 55s were strongly in favour of reopening and under 35s weren’t says a lot about the future we need to be building.”

Healthy Air Cymru said: “This is a sad day for air pollution in Cardiff. This was meant to be a consultation, not a community poll. Cardiff should be leading by example to encourage active travel and reduce air pollution. This U-turn is a surrender to the motor car.

“We find it hard to believe that Lee Waters [Welsh Government deputy minister for climate change] would ever allow a council to spend the clean air fund on a scheme that will increase air pollution in the city centre.”

Christine Boston, director of Sustrans Cymru, said: “This is disappointing news. It’s interesting that there is an age divide. Younger people want a different future. The question is whether we will deliver it for them.”

‘Much nicer’

Modelling from the council shows the current arrangement, with two lanes open to taxis and buses, shows levels of nitrogen dioxide on Castle Street at 21 micrograms per cubic metre — compared to 32 micrograms with the planned changes. That’s an increase of 52 per cent.

Councillor Caro Wild, cabinet member for strategic planning and transport, said this increase would be “negligible”. He claimed air pollution had risen elsewhere in the city as a result of the closure of Castle Street, although the council could not provide data to back this up.

He said: “The modelling showed negligible differences between the two options, and both options show considerable air quality improvements.”

Three lanes of traffic, including one bus lane, are forecasted to reduce air pollution levels on the street compared to before the pandemic. And reopening the road could reduce air pollution elsewhere in Cardiff as cars will be able to drive straight through the city centre.

Cllr Wild added: “I agree entirely that Castle Street is a much nicer place without cars. But as nice as it is, we cannot ignore concerns that the closure causes poorer air quality in nearby residential communities.

“Some of the nearby roads impacted have lots of family homes right on the streets. This is not something we can ignore, especially when we know there is no safe limit for poor air quality.”

Cardiff council was asked to provide data to show how air pollution has increased on residential streets due to the closure of Castle Street. However, a spokesman said that data was unavailable.

On Thursday, June 17, the cabinet is set to approve the changes to Castle Street, making the road wider and the pavement narrower, and reopening it to private cars. Thursday is also Clean Air Day: a campaign to highlight how each year in the UK air pollution kills thousands.

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