Community leaders have expressed frustration over efforts to tackle air pollution in North Yorkshire, saying despite hotspots being identified in some areas little progress has been achieved in decades.

Members of North Yorkshire Council’s Selby and Ainsty constituency committee told officers charged with developing plans to reduce pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, they believed there were many areas where residents health could be affected which had not been identified.

The meeting had heard some long-standing designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA), including Low/High Skellgate, Ripon, York Place, Knaresborough and Malton town centre, were to be revoked after seeing pollution levels drop below acceptable levels for five consecutive years.

Councillors heard the drop in traffic during the pandemic could have lowered some of the figures, but Government rules meant the AQMA had to be dropped.

The meeting was told AQMAs in Bond End, Knaresborough, Wetherby Road, Harrogate, The Crescent/New Street in Selby and Bedale town centre either had not demonstrated compliance levels for the required five years, or continued monitoring was necessary due to proposed developments.

The meeting heard that more than 600 sites across the county were being monitored, but before the council became a unitary authority last year, checking air quality had been an “add-on” for the district councils’ environmental health teams.

Nevertheless, following the councils merger officers said more resources and a coordinated approach could be focused on the issue.

To identify ways to reduce pollutant level officers from the council’s highways, transport planning, planning, public health and climate change teams had been set up to discuss ways of tackling air pollution “in a holistic manner with a view to embedding air quality into council plans and policies”, councillors heard.

A pollution action plan for the coming five years was presented to the meeting highlighting how air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society, including children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions.

It stated: “Air pollution is associated with a number of adverse health impacts. It is recognised as a contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and cancer.

“There is also often a strong correlation with inequality issues because areas with poor air quality are also often the less affluent areas.”

In response, councillors were told, the authority had invested in new monitoring equipment and was examining alternatives to private vehicle use, promoting low emission transport and travel alternatives, public information and education and access to transport.

Nevertheless, Councillor Tim Grogan said he was surprised there were no AQMAs in some of the county’s largest urban areas, including Scarborough, Skipton and Northallerton.

Officers told the committee they worked the Government guidelines, so while pollution at a site could be above a level considered acceptable if there were no “receptors” such as people living in the immediate area, it was not considered to be a problem.

An officer stated: “Unless there’s somebody there breathing it in for a certain length of time dictated by the technical guidance we don’t take that into consideration.”

Councillor Cliff Lunn said despite a bypass diverting some traffic from Selby town centre, the air pollution issue in Selby town centre had not changed in decades.

He said: “All that seems to be happening is we are gathering more data and more refined data. Wonderful as that is I would like to see solutions to the problem.”

Councillor Bob Packham added: “I don’t think we are taking this particularly seriously as a council. I am quite surprised – there must be many areas where residents are living close to high pollution.”