RESIDENTS OF a housing estate near a busy road in Stoke-onTrent won council backing to be rehoused this week because of high pollution levels.
The landmark decision could spark similar action by residents across the UK also affected by high traffic pollution.
The action in Stoke was prompted by the discovery that nitrogen dioxide (NO 2) levels at the Cliff Vale estate in the city were four times that permitted.
The estate borders a short section of the A500 trunk road, one of the main routes into the city.
Acceptable pollution levels are set out in the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000, drawn up under the 1995 Environment Act.
These say that levels of NO 2pollution should be no more than 21 parts per billion in residential areas.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council confirmed that pollution levels at Cliff Vale are four times this. 'We felt that these properties had become effectively untenable' said director of housing and consumer protection, Barry Ward.
Figures from the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show that cities across the country face similar problems. It is expected that large areas of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds, as well as other cities and towns, will have higher than acceptable NO 2levels by 2005.
In all, property along 10% of the UK's major roads could be affected, 58% of which is in London.
If local authorities in all these areas asked the government to cover rehousing costs, the bill could run to tens of millions of pounds.
Air quality regulations also state that local authorities are responsible for controlling local pollution hotspots.
Permitted air pollution levels have to be met by 2005, although there are no penalties for noncompliance.
But Stoke-on-Trent city council 'felt it had a moral obligation to do something about it', said assistant director Steve Tams.
Local Labour MP Mark Fisher and local councillors are lobbying DEFRA for a government contribution to the £2.5M rehousing bill.
Families in around 90 homes will need to be moved.
When Cliff Vale's findings were revealed, the houses immediately became unsellable.
The council is seeking government help because it cannot afford to move all the people at once.
But without government cash Stoke would have to relocate residents piecemeal over several years, further exposing them to pollution dangers.
Cliff Vale Residents' Association treasurer Liz Dutton claimed:
'People just want to move out as early as possible now their fate is sealed'.
Local authorities nationwide will be watching closely as fallout from the case could have serious repercussions.
'Air quality will become a major factor in the future of local planning and will develop into a national issue' claimed Tams.
Very high levels of NO 2can exacerbate asthma and other lung conditions. Some Cliff Vale residents have reported chest problems although the causes remain unconfirmed.