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Air quality in Hawkhurst - FAQs


Air quality relates to the amount of pollution in the air we breathe. When pollution levels are low, air quality is said to be good. Conversely, when pollution is high, air quality is said to be poor.

When levels of some pollutants exceed certain values, set by Government, the Local Authority is required to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and to draw up an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) to improve air quality.

Air is made up of approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. Combustion processes cause the nitrogen and oxygen to react together, which leads to the formation of nitrogen dioxide. Although most nitrogen dioxide in the air comes from traffic, all forms of combustion will produce nitrogen dioxide to a greater or lesser extent.

The other main pollutant of concern to Local Authorities is particulate matter. Whereas NO2 levels are highly localised, and it is possible to see large differences in NO2 levels between locations which are just a few metres apart, levels of particulate matter are consistent over much larger areas. Although we only measure particulate matter in one location in Tunbridge Wells, on the A26 it is reasonable to assume that the relatively low level of PMs measured will be representative of PM levels throughout the borough especially as the A26 is one of the busiest roads in the borough.

Air Quality in Hawkhurst is not generally bad, but in Cranbrook Road, near the crossroads, a number of features are found which combine to make air quality worse. These features are traffic queuing at the traffic lights, a narrow and fairly enclosed street, and an uphill gradient.

The air quality issue in Hawkhurst, is highly localised, and affects only about 40 properties. At most of these properties, the exceedance of the air quality objective is marginal and expected to be short term. Actions by TWBC must be proportionate to the size of the problem and must not simply relocate the problem to a different area. Moreover, the local roads are managed by Kent County Council so the borough council could not impose a traffic ban.

As mentioned previously, this would be a matter for KCC to decide, but TWBC would want to avoid any kind of disproportionate response or simply moving the problem somewhere else.

The modelling work which the council commissioned was only completed a few weeks ago, and we have published it at the earliest opportunity. The council’s intention was to continue monitoring, probably until the end of 2020, before making any decision on an AQMA. At the start of lockdown due to Covid 19 in March 2020, it became clear that we would be unable to measure a representative annual average NO2 level this year, which is why we decided to proceed with modelling based on the data we had already obtained. We are currently at the very beginning of the public engagement phase.

It is possible that this may come up in a search when a house is sold. If this does happen the council will be able to provide more information to the buyer or mortgage provider. We have never come across a situation where a house being in an AQMA has affected a house sale.

The council will now work with other parties such as a Kent County Council to produce an Air Quality Action Plan aimed at improving air quality in this area. There will be a public consultation on this before it is adopted. We expect this in 2021.

The council is taking this action because it is required to by law. Therefore it is not possible to object, we hope that the affected residents will understand that it is to everyone’s benefit to improve air quality in the area as quickly as possible.

NO2 measurements have been made using diffusion tubes. These are changed by officers each month and analysed by a laboratory following national guidance.

You can find more information in our Air Quality in Hawkhurst page.

For most people, a small exceedance of the NO2 annual mean objective is unlikely to affect their health. In Hawkhurst, for the most part, the exceedances are small and the general trend is downwards. In 2020, with traffic volumes significantly lower than usual, it’s quite unlikely that there will even be any exceedances and in 2021 we would expect the downward trend to continue. We expect, therefore that some properties may never see any exceedance. If you are worried about your health, you may be able to take some simple steps to protect it.

Remember that NO2 pollution is highly localised. Levels drop off very rapidly the further from the road you go. So when you are out and about walking, try to stick to the side of the pavement furthest from the road – it really does make a difference.

If you are burning gas in your house, e.g. with a gas fire or a gas hob, NO2 levels can quickly get very high. Use electricity if it’s possible, and keep the room well ventilated if it isn’t.

However, please remember, air quality in most rural areas, including Hawkhurst, is generally good, the exceedances of the NO2 objective are small, and are very unlikely to affect your health.

The air quality at your house has not changed – all that has changed is that an area of Hawkhurst has been identified as one which is being targeted for improvement. There are more than 550 AQMAs in England and more than 650 in the UK as a whole, so they are by no means unique. We are not aware of any evidence that they affect house sales, or house prices.

This would be a personal decision for you to make.

The council needs to declare this AQMA in order to comply with the law. At present we think this area will come into compliance with air quality objective in the fairly short term and we will be able to revoke the AQMA, probably in two to three years. As it is a statutory requirement, it cannot be stopped.

There is a combination of factors in this short stretch of road which, together have brought about an exceedance of the annual mean air quality objective for nitrogen dioxide. The main factors are the uphill gradient, queueing at the top of the hill because of the traffic lights, queueing at the bottom of the hill, because of the parked cars, the fact that the roads is narrow towards the top of the hill, and the pavements are narrow, meaning that the buildings are closer to the road, and preventing pollution from dispersing.

The pollutant of concern is nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Owing to reduced traffic volumes as a result of the Coronavirus situation, the council is no longer able to monitor pollution from ‘normal’ traffic conditions, as it had hoped to do. Therefore we decided to commission some modelling of the area based on the data we measured in 2019. This modelling has indicated a requirement for this AQMA.

This is unlikely to affect the local plan.

It is unlikely that the council would be able to refuse planning consent for new houses on air quality grounds. The council will however, be able to scrutinise the impact of new development on the new AQMA, and require suitable air quality mitigation to be built in as a condition of the planning consent.

If you have any further questions not covered by the FAQs please email us at sustainability@tunbridgewells.gov.uk.