A West Dorset beauty spot has topped the charts as the most polluted location in the whole of the UK.
Chideock Hill came in top for nitrogen dioxide pollution in 2018/19 – ahead of thousands of urban locations – according to Air Quality Annual Status Reports published last Friday (31 July) by Friends of the Earth.
The annual average recording on the hill was 97.7 µg/m3 (micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per metre cubed of air). For comparison, the second highest recording was 91.7 µg/m3 – outside Sheffield train station’s taxi rank.
Both of these are more than double the target level of 40 µg/m3 .
Pollution is high because the A35 runs directly up the hill; this is the main road connecting the tourist hotspots of the South West to London and the South East. The gradient of the hill lends itself to gear changes and braking that only increase emissions.
A bypass has been proposed since the mid-1990s to alleviate the problems, but plans have never been put into action.
“No one’s listening, nothing’s being done, and nothing’s changing. It’s just getting worse.”Kevin Heard, Chideock Bypass Working Group
The Chideock Bypass Working Group formed in 2016 to suggest an updated route, campaigning for change to be realised. The group contains civil engineers, as well as Chideock residents who have experienced the A35’s effects on their village life – their expertise on the subject is clear.
One of the members, Kevin Heard, said that the bypass would go some way to tackling the pollution problem.
He said: “At the moment the primary problem is up to 25,000 vehicles a day and the pollution that that causes.
“Because the bypass would be flatter and easier to access [than the current road], the number of gear changes and brake usage would be much much less. So pollution would be less too.
“We are proposing a much shorter route than previous campaigns – from the bottom of the hill on the east, to the top of the hill on the west.”
A key benefit of a bypass would be to reduce the fallout of any accidents that occur in Chideock.
Kevin added: “There is no viable alternative route if something goes wrong in Chideock. The current alternative route [to bypass the village] for cars is 30 miles and takes an hour. The sensible route for heavy vehicles is 60 miles and takes two hours.
“When you look at the route from Southampton to Plymouth, Chideock is the pinch point. If anything goes wrong, it goes badly wrong.”
Is the problem being ignored?
The general feeling of Chideock residents is that their health and wellbeing has been ignored for too long – and continues to be ignored.
Just a day after the pollution statistics were published, the weekend Telegraph Magazine led with a 6-page feature on celebrity chef Mark Hix’s new venture – an oyster and fish truck parked at the top of Chideock Hill.
Hix was powerless when the administrators were called in on the restaurant empire that bears his name just before lockdown, with all his staff made redundant. He has been forced to start from scratch again, opting to station his new venture atop Chideock Hill to catch the A35 traffic.
The promotion could boost the West Dorset tourist economy – which is welcomed in the wake of lockdown. However as more vehicles are encouraged along this stretch of the A35, the pollution problems will only get worse.
Kevin highlighted that the issues stemming from the current A35 route and talks of a bypass are not pressing in Westminster.
“The previous MP for West Dorset, Oliver Letwin, made several moves but nothing came of it. We have yet to pin down new MP Chris Loder for a meeting.”
It appears the issue of pollution will continue to hamper Chideock residents for a little while longer.