Time to clean up polluted St Albans junction

Simon Grover and Green Party members at the Peahen junction

Simon Grover and Green Party members at the Peahen junction - Credit: Archant

High pollution levels in the East and South East have reignited local concerns about the impact of traffic levels on air quality in St Albans city centre.

Government department Defra issued warnings on Tuesday after high pollution levels - caused by a mix of local and European emissions and dust from the Sahara - were recorded in several parts of the country.

In response St Albans Green councillor, Simon Grover, said that the centre of St Albans already had ‘a chronic pollution problem caused by traffic’ over which the council could be fined if they continued not to act.

The Peahen junction is considered to be one of the most polluted in the country and was declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) 10 years ago.

Several ideas have been considered over the years to solve the problem including asking motorists to turn off their engines while staionary at the lights and part-pedestrianising St Peter’s Street..

Cllr Grover went on: “This latest smog warning highlights just how serious a threat pollution is to our health.”

He added: “Over the last few years I have repeatedly pushed St Albans council for action to reduce air pollution, from getting buses and taxis to stop idling, to installing engine switch-off signs at the Peahen Junction.”

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The issue has also been raised by cycle campaigner Roger Talbot who is concerned that nothing has emerged from either the district or county councils about the possibility of partial closure of St Peter’s Street to ease city centre pollution issues.

He has held a meeting with the district council’s portfolio for community engagement and localism Cllr Beric Read about sending through traffic around the city centre instead of across it and believes that redesignating Holywell Hill so that it is no longer an A road would accomplish that.

But Cllr Read said yesterday that computer modelling on part-pedestrianing St Peter’s Street had demonstrated that there would be little benefit from such a scheme. “It might slightly improve Holywell Hill but would have created real problems in the rest of St Albans,”

He went on: “We have found that most of the traffic through St Albans is from St Albans and the only A road is through the middle of town which people follow on their sat navs. There is a strong argument for trying to change or declassify Holywell Hill but it would mean King Harry Lane having a higher classification which the residents would be very unhappy about.”

He explained that a lot of the problems at the Peahen junction stemmed from the narrowness of Holywell Hill which meant buses were often trapped by traffic turning right into London Road.

Currently the county council is modelling a proposal for some kind of traffic light to be installed near Westminster Lodge on the wider part of Holywell Hill. Because of the width there, a bus lane could be installed and by stopping traffic at that point, more control could be exercised over vehicales heading up to the Peahen junction, he added.