Ashbourne Air Quality


Air pollution in Ashbourne

Did you know that two roads in Ashbourne suffer from illegal levels of air pollution? Do you know what an AQMA is? Or an AQAP? Do you want something to be done?

Read on to find out about the Buxton Road AQMA and what the district council is doing (and not doing) and what you can do to help.

Please email the author if you want to know more or want to get involved. Or join the Facebook Group.

Air quality group
January 10, 2023
September 26, 2023


Why does Ashbourne have a problem with air pollution?

Air pollution in Ashbourne comes from road traffic, especially HGVs.

Buxton Road and St John Street are part of the A515 which links the A50 to Buxton and further north. The road carries local HGV traffic from the quarries and other local industry, and it also carries longer-distance traffic avoiding the M1, A6 and M6.

At peak times, counts of HGV traffic on Buxton Road can exceed 90 per hour in each direction. That's about 3 HGV every minute (its not that bad all day, thank goodness!).

On leaving Ashbourne, Buxton Road has a 16% gradient and is only wide enough for one lorry to pass through - a second lorry has to mount the pavement or sit and wait for the road to clear.  Uphill lorries often stop to let downhill lorries pass and it takes a lot of engine revving and wheel spinning to get them going again.  Video of lorries on Buxton Hill.

Lorries trying to pass each other on Buxton Road in Ashbourne

Another problem area is St John Street, which is an "urban canyon" of a narrow street with tall buildings that naturally traps pollution. Also an issue is the double traffic lights (where the A515 meets the A517) as HGVs struggle to make the uphill left turn onto Derby Road.

At busy times there can be traffic jams for hundreds of yards in all directions throughout Ashbourne.

Traffic queuing on Hall Lane in Ashbourne

Should I avoid Ashbourne?


Ashbourne is a fabulous town to visit and shop in, despite the traffic. There are lots of quirky alleyways and side streets away from the main roads, a great little museum, quality independent shops (especially for antiques, ladies clothing & jewellery) and an abundance of small cafes. The air pollution is only a danger for people who live and work on the worst streets.

What are AQMA and AQAP?

Every local authority in the UK is required to carry out regular reviews of air quality, to ensure that the national air quality objectives are achieved and maintained.

It is illegal to have pollution exceeding the air quality objectives. If any place is found where an objective is failed (or not likely to be achieved), the authority must declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).

Then the authority must create a Local Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) which sets out the actions it will take to bring the air quality back within legal limits.

Ashbourne had an AQMA declared in May 2021 to cover Buxton Road and St John Street. An AQAP is being prepared now.

Buxton Road air quality graph

This chart shows the values from three of the testing sites on Buxton Road during 2019 to 2022. The testing process is explained in more detail below. Note that 2022 uses the 2021 adjustment factor (to be updated).

Scattergraph of NOX value on Buxton Road

Key events

  • 13 July 2023- DDDC resolve to review the draft AQAP and to start monitoring particulates
  • 26 May 2023 - online consultation- until 26th June - plus drop-ins and public meetings
  • May 2023 elections - DDDC changes control from Conservative to Alliance.....
  • 9 Feb 2023 - debate on the AQAP at the DDDC council meeting - 20mph zone and ULEZ added to the consultation
  • 1 Feb 2023 - consultation draft AQAP issued
  • Nov 2022 – publication of the draft AQAP is deferred to 2023 - a public meeting is promised
  • Oct 2022 – the relief road is dropped from the draft AQAP
  • May 2021 – an AQMA is declared to cover Buxton Road and St John Street
  • 2019 - Buxton Road increases to five NOX testing stations, two of which consistently report illegal levels of NOX
  • 2017 -  a testing station is set up on Buxton Road which reports illegal levels of NOX
  • Up to 2017 – DDDC does not monitor pollution on Buxton Road
  • 1997 – air quality objectives for the UK are published

Political process

The authority responsible for air quality in Ashbourne is Derbyshire Dales District Council (DDDC). Derbyshire County Council (DCC) is responsible for highways and traffic. Thus DDDC has no powers to do anything without DCC agreement.

DCC is working on a releif road and has publicly commented that they are not minded to do anything else to mitigate the problems in Ashbourne.

Until May 2023, both councils were conservative controlled, so tended to agree. Now DCC is controlled by an alliance of all the other parties & independents, so there is scope for the two councils to disagree. Disagreements that cannot be resolved will eventually get escalated to the Secretary of State.

Air quality falls under the remit of the Community & Environment Committee of DDDC. Meetings are open to the public and can also be watched online.

  • 13 July 2023: A review of history and progress to date with a resolution to set up a working group and acknowledgement of the need to broaden monitoring to encompass particulates.
  • 9 February 2023: A debate on the draft AQAP and draft consultation - it was agreed to add the options of a ULEZ and a 20mph zone to the consultation.
  • 1 November 2022: A debate on the draft AQAP - it was deferred for further reports.
  • 7 April 2021: The AQMA is approved.

More about the AQMA...

DDDC had been monitoring NOX in Ashbourne for many years but only started tests on Buxton Road in 2017, which revealed that the road repeatedly exceeded the legal limits.

In 2020, after much pressure from local residents, DDDC hired consultants to carry out a proper assessment.  Their report was published in March 2021 with the result that an AQMA was declared in May 2021.  

The AQMA covers the A515 (Buxton Road) from the junction with Windmill Lane to Madges Corner plus the St John Street approach to the Market Place (by the Millennium clock).  See map.

A ‘Steering Group’ was formed to produce the AQAP. This consists of officers from DDDC and DCC but it also has a representative from Ashbourne Town Team and another from Ashbourne Town Council.

At the same time we created the Buxton Road Residents Association (author of this blog) to lobby for a plan that would actually do something to solve the problem.  

What does the AQAP say?

Download here the latest publicly available AQAP draft as published on the agenda for the 9 February 2023 District Council meeting. The pack includes a covering report, a draft AQAP, a draft consultation survey and other supporting docs.   Note that the 20mph and clean air zone actions agreed on the 9th Feb will not be included in the AQAP unless actively accepted by the council post-consultation.

Here are the nine proposed actions (note that the bypass is not listed because the actions proposed must have an effect within 5 years and the bypass will take longer). None of them seem likely to have any appreciable effect on air quality.

  1. Investigate transport technology
  2. Investigate traffic flow around Ashbourne
  3. Roadside and in-car traffic warnings
  4. Cut back the tree canopy
  5. Improve the public realm on St John Street and Dig Street and provide better cycling facilities
  6. Investigate demand for electric charging points
  7. School and job travel planning
  8. Better public transport
  9. Engagement with local haulage companies

The AQAP is required to explain exactly how the actions are expected to reduce NOX pollution down to legal levels. It doesn't do that at the moment.  

A public consultation on the draft AQAP was held in May/June 2023. Many residents wrote detailed letters to DDDC, to supplement their online responses. The consultation is still being analysed.

Why does the AQAP mostly ignore HGVs?

There are no actions to reduce the number of HGVs. A group of district councillors has requested this (see this press release), but has so far not been able to get it adopted.

The only direct mention of HGV is action 9 on engagement with local haulage companies. It says "We know the A515 is an important route for minerals haulage and there are opportunities to engage with mineral site operators through site planning and monitoring e.g. through local liaison committees. We know several companies are embracing lower emission vehicles to support efficiency of operation and there are opportunities to work together in partnership to embrace new technologies as they come forward. Further information about the importance of the A515 as a freight corridor will also be gathered to help develop a more effective and focused approach to provide messaging about air quality issues in Ashbourne."

Action 2 on investigating traffic flow might result in changes that would improve pollution. But without more details it is impossible to know.  

The county council (DCC) has said in many public meetings that it will not support any moves to reduce HGV traffic in Ashbourne. This is because it would move the problem rather than solve it and also it would weaken the case for a relief road. It would of course be politically difficult to move the HGV traffic to Buxton, Matlock or Cromford.

What do we want?

Our objective is for an AQAP that stands the best chance of actually working to bring Ashbourne air quality within legal limits. We don't support the current draft AQAP - the proposed actions are weak and non-specific and do not address HGVs. We would also like particulates to be monitored as well as NOX.

It is very easy to think of specific ideas for the AQAP that could be modelled or even trialled out. For example

Directly reduce the number of HGV using our roads

This could be done by applying weight limits to Buxton Hill. Ideally this would be both ways, but a weight limit for northbound only might also work to bring down pollution.

Improve traffic flow to reduce jams and stoppages

Buxton hill could be made northbound priority for HGV, so that southbound HGV traffic is forced to wait at the top until the road is clear.  Thus traffic would move more smoothly through Ashbourne (jams on the main road coming into town might get longer but the pollution would be out of town). This could be accompanied by a wider pavement and a safety barrier so as to make it impossible for two lorries to pass (but still allow two cars), which would also make the route much safer for pedestrians.

Southbound traffic could be banned from Derby Road. The left hand turn at the traffic light is very difficult for large vehicles and can take the whole of one green light for one lorry to get through. This contributes to tailbacks all the way to Buxton Road. It would be simple to direct all HGV straight on, along the A-Road, towards the bypass.  

Encourage HGV to avoid Ashbourne

This could be done by making Ashbourne less attractive as a through route. Banning HGV taking short cuts along Dig Street, Mayfield Road and Derby Road (all unclassified minor roads) would make their journeys longer and more expensive (and would also have a massive benefit to the residents, schools, shops and churches on those streets).

There could also be voluntary agreements with local hauliers, for example to use Ashbourne only one way, or only every other day, or only in the mornings.........

How can you help?

Join our group - please email us.

Take part in the public consultations.

Attend a district council meeting.

Don't rely on others to do all the work. You can easily make your own demands known to our politicians and the more complaints they get the more notice they will take.

Write to your MP Sarah Dines. Write to your District Councillors, Rob Archer, Peter Dobbs, Anthony Bates, Nick Wilson and Stuart Lees. Write to your County Councillors, Simon Spencer and Steve Bull.

What sort of pollution is it?

In Ashbourne we have two main kinds of pollution from road traffic.

The first is NOX which is shorthand for any oxide of nitrogen (usually converted into the equivalent amount of Nitrogen Dioxide or NO2). The main cause is traffic exhaust fumes.

The second is particulates which are microscopic particles of solid or liquid matter suspended in the air. They are also known as atmospheric aerosol particles. (source: Wikipedia). The main cause is diesel exhaust fumes, but in Ashbourne we also get brake dust and clutch dust, especially at the traffic lights and on Buxton hill.

The AQMA relates only to NOX as particulates are believed by the District Council to be within legal limits (but this has never been tested).

Why is air pollution harmful?


High levels of NOX can cause damage to the human respiratory tract and increase a person's vulnerability to, and the severity of, respiratory infections and asthma. Long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can cause chronic lung disease.  It is also reacts with sunlight and oxygen to produce ozone – ozone is a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change (source: aeroqual).  


The smaller the particle size, the more harmful they are, as they can travel further into your lungs when you breathe them in.

Exposure to particulates can affect your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution to problems including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, non-fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing (source: USA government).

Air quality objectives

Air pollution is measured in terms of the amount of micrograms of pollutant in a metre cube of air. Micrograms per metre cube is written as µgm3.


The UK national air quality objective for NOX sets a limit of an annual mean no higher than 40µgm3 at a location where people live or work (in the USA the limit is 35).

The annual mean is calculated by taking the local test results and averaging them over the year. An adjustment factor for known bias is applied (varies depending on the tests used) along with another adjustment factor to take into account the distance of the test site from a residence or workplace.   


The UK national air quality objective for particulates uses the particle size in microns. A micron is a very small unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter or 1/26,000 of a inch. It is also known as a micrometer (American) or micrometre (International Bureau of Weights and Measures). PM10 means particulates of 10 microns or less. PM2.5 means particulates of 2.5 microns or less.

The original objective set back in 1997 was for an annual mean of PM10 no higher than 40µgm3 (micrograms per metre cube).  Subsequent research has shown that PM2.5 is more harmful so the objective was amended to a much tougher target of PM2.5 to have an annual mean of no higher than 20µgm3, supposedly to be achieved by the end of 2019.  The annual mean is calculated by [coming soon......].  

NOX monitoring in Ashbourne

Prior to 2017, DDDC monitored NOX only at Taylor Court and at Madges Corner.  In 2017 a testing tube was added on Buxton Road and in 2019, after pressure from local residents, the number of tubes on Buxton Road was increased to five, making seven in total in Ashbourne.  

Locations on Buxton Road have repeatedly exceeded the 40µgm3 limits, with unadjusted results as high as 70µgm3 (there have been occasional exceptions, mostly during lockdown).

Since then the testing tubes have been moved around a few times. Locations in 2023 are as below, plus Taylor Court and Station Street which are off-map.  

Map of Ashbourne showing Nox test sites.
2023 testing sites (5 out of 7)

A testing site consists of a small tube attached to a building or other structure in the test location. Here is the one by The Bowling Green Inn.

Close up of Nox site on Buxton Road with test tube attached to lamppost

Particulates monitoring in Ashbourne

DDDC does not currently monitor particulates, anywhere in its area, but is considering dong so.  

The nearest monitoring stations are Derby, Stoke and Burton.  DEFRA takes data from all the stations, makes predictions of base-level particulates for 1km grid squares and provides databases and guidance to aid conversion to local results.

For the draft AQAP, DDDC used consultants to produce local models which in Ashbourne include adjustments for data on traffic volumes, the gradient of the road and the impact of “urban canyons”.  

The models predict that particulates in Ashbourne are under half of legal limits and therefore DDDC has no obligation to carry out any actual testing. However, without testing to obtain real data, there is no way of knowing whether the models are right or wrong.

We think that particulates monitoring should be done in Ashbourne.


In alphabetical order......

AQAP: a local Air Quality Action Plan must be designed by the local authority and approved by DEFRA to reduce the levels of pollution in an AQMA.

AQMA: an Air Quality Management Area is declared when the local authority determines that pollution levels are too high

ASR: is the Annual Status Report published by the local authority on levels of pollution

DCC: Derbyshire County Council is the Highways Authority for Ashbourne

DDDC: Derbyshire Dales District Council is the local authority for Ashbourne with responsibility for the ASR that covers Ashbourne

DEFRA: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has central government responsibility for air pollution

NOX: Abbreviation for any oxide of nitrogen.  Usually converted into equivalent NO2 for comparison purposes

PM10 : Particulates of 10 microns or less

PM2.5 : Particulates of 2.5 microns or less

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