(Written February 2008, published in Baddow Life, Issue 19, Spring 2008)
There is some hope now for improved air quality in the Army and Navy area. Chelmsford Borough Council has issued a draft Air Quality Action Plan and carried out a public consultation about it.
As we reported in Issue 13, Autumn 2006, this area, including much of Baddow Road, is officially an Air Quality Management Area. The high levels there of nitrogen dioxide and small particles were considered a potential health threat.
According to the new Action Plan, there is now an issue only with nitrogen dioxide. In the most polluted place, just where Baddow Road meets the roundabout, the annual mean amount of this gas is about 10% above the recommended safe level. The prediction is that this will drop below the target level by 2010 even if no action is taken, because newer cars and buses are less polluting. But it is not clear if this prediction includes the impact of 450 new homes in and around Baddow Road and Beehive Lane and of major developments in Parkway and Chelmer Waterside. Of course, taking no action will do nothing to ease congestion problems even if the air does improve.
So the Borough Council is considering a number of measures which may improve the situation. Some appear uncontroversial. Work is imminent on providing an extra lane and a split pedestrian crossing in Van Diemans Road. A left filter lane from Parkway to Chelmer Road is being recommended. The proposal for a bus-only access road from Meadgate Avenue to Baddow bypass has been dropped as impractical.
Some more controversial measures are being considered. One of these is to close Baddow Road near the Army and Navy, except to buses and local residents. The problem with this is that it forces most cars to use a much longer route via the already congested bypass. A more practical proposed measure is to re-route some buses.
Also being considered are changes to the Army and Navy junction. In the long term a two-way flyover might be built, but this might turn out to be too expensive. Meanwhile the operation of the existing flyover might be changed so that it is always one-way either into or out of the town. Calls have been made for the traffic lights at the roundabout to be brought back into use, to ensure a fairer share and safer access to this key junction. In the long term the Chelmer Road viaduct needs to be rebuilt, and the new road may be realigned to meet Baddow bypass at a new junction separate from the existing roundabout.
In many respects the best way to reduce congestion and pollution is to encourage people to walk or cycle into the town, by making this safe and attractive. Separately work is in progress on designing cycle routes.
Minor improvements of the kind which are being proposed should help to alleviate the worst of the traffic and air quality problems. The major works which would be needed to solve the problem properly are prohibitively expensive and environmentally damaging. But it seems that Baddow residents will for the foreseeable future have to live with a congested Army and Navy junction and air quality only just within safe limits.