Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Air Pollution and Sunken Roads

Air Pollution and Sunken Roads

Ryan Morrison, BBC News Online, reports on a recent study on the tunnel under Fort Regent:

“Pedestrians and cyclists should limit how much time they spend in Jersey's tunnel and drivers should keep their windows closed, that's the advice from Jersey's environment department. It comes after an air quality test found the quality at peak time was poor with the amount of pollution up to seven times higher than nearby Snow Hill.”

But the Waterfront Masterplan, as originally devised back in 2008, contains the following statement: “If we can lower the road the town will seamlessly integrate with the Waterfront ”. As anyone can see, traffic still  moves along the Esplanade, to Sand Street, to Conway Street, and the plans never addressed this fissure in the so-called "seamless integration". 

Alan Maclean, back in 2008 before the Senatorial elections, waxed lyrical about this:

"The practical and economic case for sinking the road will join the Waterfront to the town and produce the funds to regenerate St Helier."

Paul Routier also bought into the fantasy of a sunken road:

"The current plans have raised the bar to a high level in that they have a real feel of quality and vision. The sinking of the road does make sense, both practically and financially, because it creates greater accessability across the whole Waterfront and optimises the available space. "

Peter Troy was more cautious:

"I have no objection to sinking the road, but we must ensure air extractors with filters remove carbon monoxide build-up. Why TTS have never fitted extractors to the Tunnel is mystifying, as its air quality is appalling."

Ian le Marquand, also a candidate for Senator in late 2008, expressed doubts about this:

"The sinking of the main road is estimated to cost £45 million, which is a lot of money. I doubt whether the States would have agreed to this cost if it had not been packaged as part of the overall deal with Harcourt, which gives the States £50 million.”

But what I always could see from the start was problem with air quality. The underpass, as anyone notices at rush hour, is full of slow moving traffic, but the fumes dissipate in the air. If there is a large segment of road underground, what on earth will the air quality be like there?

Some move towards an answer came in a reply by the Minister for Planning and Environment, Senator Freddie Cohen, in a question asked in the States on 16 April 2008 by Constable Phil Rondel, partly at my instigation.

Question: With regard to the proposed sunken road at the Esplanade Quarter, would the Minister advise whether the annual maintenance and running cost of the fume extraction equipment is budgeted for within the suggested £500,000 annual spend, and would he further advise whether the fumes will be filtered before release into the atmosphere and, if so, the annual cost of so doing? Would the Minister further advise precisely where, and what height, the fumes will be released?

Answer: The estimated energy and routine maintenance costs for the tunnel ventilation plant are included in the suggested figure of £500,000 per annum for the total operating costs for the tunnel. There are no plans to filter the air exhausted from the tunnel. The pollution extract system will move the air through the tunnel prior to it being discharged at the tunnel portals. The air will not be filtered prior to discharge.

The sunken road, however, seems to have vanished from the Waterfront, which seems to have been taken on board by WEB and then SOJDC more as a vague guide, to be discarded at will.

As Brian McCarthy noted in 2015

“The Masterplan that was approved by the States in 2008 provides for 388 residential units, 65 self-catering apartments, a substantial winter garden, a boutique hotel, 54,000 sq. ft. of retail space, public open spaces and a new underground road. How and why are these aspects now missing from the Jersey International Finance Centre proposals?”

“The new two-way vehicular access road, from the back of the cinema building to the existing car park runs directly across the route of the Masterplan’s sunken road / roundabout and the proposals would therefore appear to conflict with each other. Can the plans for the underground proposals, their delivery and their cost be fully explained?”

It is clear from the air quality reports regarding the tunnel that the air quality fume extraction system posited for the sunken road would have to be exceptionally good, and yet no technical specifications have ever existed of this wonderful and remarkable system.

And the cost of £500,000 per annum, probably in today’s terms, £750,000, is a cost the Island just cannot afford.

Isn’t it about time to be honest and admit the new development bears little or no resemblance to that originally passed by the States in 2008, and scrap the sunken road?

Is the Council of Ministers so scared of halting the Finance Centre development that as an act of collective cowardice, collective irresponsibility, they will not revisit the plans and take out what was even in the heyday of 2008, a fantasy conjured up by Hopkins Architects, which should never have seen the light of day? 

And how will they manage to sink the road with office blocks already in place? The original plans had the road at the start, because you build over it, and there are no issues with subsidence caused by heavy buildings already in place.

It is time to sink the notion of a sunken road once and for all!

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