AIR quality in the Tamar Valley will only worsen with further increases in bridge and ferry charges, says a local councillor.

A campaign to see the tolls on the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry abolished will see a petition presented to government by MP Sheryll Murray on April 23.

But as things stand currently, councillors on both sides of the border have agreed that the cost can be put up to £3 for cars. 

While attention focuses on the crossings in Saltash and Torpoint, upriver in Gunnislake, each hike in prices has a knock-on impact to traffic volumes crossing the 500 year old bridge and the levels of pollutants in the village.

Cornwall Councillor Dorothy Kirk feels that residents of the Tamar Valley are being ignored.

The recent closure of Gunnislake’s Newbridge, while this time not connected to vehicle damage, brings home the fragility of the structure and its insuitability for ever-rising numbers of cars and lorries, says Cllr Kirk.

The current costs for large lorries on the Tamar Bridge are £6.30, £10.40 or £14.30, depending on how many axles the truck has.

“To avoid paying the tolls, of course the HGVs come down the A390 to Gunnislake. It makes sense if you look at a line on a map. The air quality issues that we have here are exacerbated by that,” said Cllr Kirk.

Gunnislake was named as an air quality management area in 2014 because levels of pollution were higher than nationally-set guidelines. But Cllr Kirk says that since then, nothing much has been done to address the problem. An experimental chicane was not shown to make a difference: it was also suggested that thinning the tree canopy would help, but this hasn’t been done.

Cornwall Council’s air quality action plan, last updated in 2020, puts forward various measures for Gunnislake, including an increased frequency of bus services, car sharing, more people using the train, and “encouraging” hauliers to take the A38, although how this can be achieved while also fulfilling the objective of not impacting on Tideford’s air quality is not clear.

In its plan, Cornwall Council describes how “emissions from HCVs in particular increase substantially at low speeds and when ascending a gradient. The relatively steep gradient in Gunnislake, combined with the stop-start conditions at the village centre traffic lights, provide a worst case scenario with regard to the generation of emissions”,

“I know there’s a lack of resources but there’s also a lack of prioritisation,” said Cllr Kirk.“I resent the notion that it’s ok for a child in Gunnislake to have a greater risk of developing pulmonary conditions than a child elsewhere.

“Tideford is taken seriously because it’s on the A38. It just isn’t fair, not to take it seriously here.”

Cllr Kirk acknowledges that the problem “seems to be insoluble except for with major expenditure”.

But she that if Cornwall’s connectivity truly matters, then a new bridge across the River Tamar, albeit at great cost, would be the only real solution.