THE introduction of a 20mph speed limit reduced pollution in Usk, it has been claimed – despite a recent Welsh Government study which failed to find any air quality benefits from the lower speeds.

Air quality in the town has improved over the past nine years, tests have shown, and Monmouthshire Council could now consider removing its status as an Air Quality Management Area – put in place because the town was above national pollution standards. 

Councillor Meirion Howells said he welcomed the improvement, and claimed the 20mph zone introduced in the town in 2017, six years before the national roll out, had contributed to a reduction in pollution on the town’s Bridge Street. 

The Independent councillor for Llanbadoc and Usk said: “I think we all noted the 20mph made a difference and certainly helped.” 

The councillor, who was speaking as Monmouthshire Council’s performance scrutiny committee was updated on the work of its environmental health department, and claimed the lower limit across Wales had made a difference to air quality over the longer term. 

That was despite a recent Welsh Government-commissioned study saying the evidence of an improvement from the nationwide 20mph roll out, from sensors placed beside roads, was “insignificant”.

A Welsh Government spokesman also admitted last month: “We have never claimed 20mph would make a material difference to air quality and to suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous.”

The 20mph limit was introduced on Usk’s Monmouth Road, Castle Parade and Bridge Street, which form part of the A472 main road through the town, in November 2017.

The lower limit was then extended to residential streets in 2023 before it became the default speed limit in built up areas in Wales in September last year. 

Bridge Street in Usk was designated an AQMA as nitrogen dioxide, produced as a result of cars burning fossil fuels, was exceeding 40 micrograms per cubic metre annually. 

The report for the committee stated: “Last year was the ninth year that levels in the Usk Air Quality Management Area were below the nitrogen dioxide objective level and the sixth year below 36 per cubit metre (which is below 10% of the objective level).” 

Welsh Government guidance states council can consider revoking Air Quaility Management Area status if emissions are below 10 per cent of the objective level for five years.

The report stated the council has taken into consideration the drop in traffic during the pandemic period: “Making allowances for lower traffic levels during the two years of the covid pandemic, if 2024 is again below 10 per cent of the objective level, consideration will be given to revoking the AQMA status.” 

The implementation of the 20mph zone, from 2017, as well as enforcement of double yellow line parking restrictions, a lorry watch scheme to help enforce a Road Traffic Order banning larger vehicles from the centre of town and improved signage were all listed completed measures as part of an action plan to improve air quailty in Usk. 

The A48 at Hardwick Hill, Chepstow is also designated an AQMA where the council uses  more accurate, automatic monitoring equipment. 

The report said monitoring in Usk and Chepstow, and other monitoring in its four major towns, found the nitrogen dioxide level hadn’t been exceeded during the 2023 calendar year which it stated “builds on the previous three compliant years”. 

The council’s most recently available air quality progress report, from September 2023 which covers result of air quality monitoring in 2022, states “air quality in Monmouthshire has been steadily improving since 2012”. 

Meanwhile, Monmouthshire Council want to hear the views of residents on potentially changing some roads back to 30mph, after the Labour Government’s decision to revisit its blanket 20mph policy.

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