Homes on traffic-choked A53 with illegal NO2 could be bought by council so no-one has to live there

-Credit: (Image: Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel)
-Credit: (Image: Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel)


Homes exposed to illegal levels of air pollution from traffic could be bought up by a council - so controversial bus gate plans can be scrapped. Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Newcastle Borough Council have been ordered by the government to cut nitrogen dioxide levels on Basford Bank, which currently exceed legal limits.

The councils were drawing up plans for a bus gate which would block most Newcastle-bound traffic from a section of the A53 during the morning and evening rush hours. But businesses complained that the scheme would hit their trade, while residents have raised concerns that it would lead to increased 'rat running' on side streets.

The councils have now been given the green light to develop an alternative plan which would see the city council purchase 10 homes along the most polluted stretch of Basford Bank, on the Stoke-on-Trent side of the boundary. This would ensure that residents are no longer exposed to high levels of NO2, meaning the councils would be able to wait for 'natural compliance' to occur due to cleaner vehicles replacing more polluting ones - negating the need for more draconian measures such as the bus gate.

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Following lobbying by local MPs and councillors, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has agreed that the councils can draw up a business case for the alternative scheme, while work on the bus gate is paused, with a final decision set to be made later this year. Conservative Newcastle candidate Aaron Bell, who lobbied ministers on the issue as MP, welcomed the change in direction.

He said: "I am delighted that a pragmatic solution has been found that will avoid the traffic chaos in May Bank, Wolstanton and Basford. I have always been clear that the 'bus gate' proposals would have simply diverted HGVs and other traffic onto more minor roads, merely moving the problem elsewhere, and causing rat-runs across Basford, May Bank and Wolstanton.

"Basford Bank is a major route for commuters in and out of Newcastle, so I have worked hard with colleagues from the borough council, and Stoke-on-Trent MPs, to come up with a plan that suits our local needs - we have all been clear that the 'bus gate' proposal was unworkable and should be avoided."

Shaun Pender, Labour city councillor for Basford and Hartshill, said his party had always been opposed to the bus gate on Basford Bank.

He said: "When we were in opposition we criticised the bus gate plan and questioned the Conservative administration over it. This new plan isn't just good news for Basford and Hartshill, it will be better for the whole city. Basford Bank is a key artery for traffic heading in a westerly direction from Stoke-on-Trent to Newcastle, so the bus gate would have caused problems for the whole city.

"There was also the risk of traffic being displaced, and local streets being snarled up by drivers avoiding the bus gate. I'm glad that we now have a better plan for tackling the air pollution issue."

Simon Tagg, Conservative leader of the borough council, said: "Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council has been lobbying the government and MPs for a sensible resolution to this issue since 2018. The reality is that people's travel habits have changed since the Covid lockdowns and therefore the situation has evolved so that a bus gate has become a large hammer to crack a very small nut.“

"If the proposal to reach compliance on the Stoke-on-Trent side of the border on Basford Bank is accepted by the government, we would welcome its adoption to remove such a disruptive measure as a bus gate which would force traffic onto local roads in Basford and May Bank ."

In a letter to Mr Bell on May 8 - before the general election was called - Mr Harper said he appreciated the impact the bus gate would have on residents and businesses, but stressed that the air pollution issue is 'unlikely to go away without any robust interventions'. Mr Harper goes on to confirm that he has agreed that a 'robust business case' for the alternative option can be progressed, with work on the bus gate business case paused.

The councils have been working on proposals to tackle NO2 levels on Basford Bank since 2018, when they were among a number of authorities subject to a ministerial direction on air pollution.

In a joint statement, the borough council, city council and county council said: "As plans for a bus gate on Etruria Road became more detailed, we were concerned by the scale of the predicted traffic diversions and the impact this would have on many other side roads in the area, affecting the lives of hundreds of residents.

"We recently shared an emerging alternative proposal with the UK Government that would avoid a bus gate being installed, which would also achieve the city and borough councils' legal obligation to reduce pollution.

"There is still a lot of work to be done to get a final plan completed and approved by the UK Government. Work on the bus gate has now been paused while all three councils focus their efforts on completing a full business case for this alternative proposal."

The city council has also been told to cut NO2 levels on Victoria Road in Fenton. Council leaders believe this can be achieved through reducing congestion, as opposed to a more controversial clean air zone which would see drivers of the most polluting vehicles charged to enter parts of Hanley and Fenton.

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