Woodside Terrace in Crumlin has hit the headlines as Wales’ most polluted street. Last week it was announced houses could be torn down to address the problem. NICHOLAS THOMAS spoke to residents living along the busy stretch

WHEN Carole Gurner moved into her new family home in Crumlin’s Woodside Terrace 30 years ago, she had no idea her street would one day make headlines as one of the most polluted in the UK.

Woodside Terrace lies at one end of the A472, connecting the Ebbw valley with Pontypool and Monmouthshire.

The importance of this route to local traders, combined with the steepness of the hill and the narrow valley in which it is located, creates a perfect storm of conditions to trap noxious exhaust fumes in the air around the homes of Mrs Gurner and her neighbours.

As a result, Woodside Terrace and the surrounding area on Hafodyrynys Hill has been recorded as having higher levels of the highly harmful gas nitrogen dioxide than anywhere else in the UK, outside London.

Every hour of the day, lorries roar up and down the hill at deafening volumes.

“The traffic just gets worse all the time,” said Mrs Gurner, who has brought up seven children in her Crumlin home, said.

“It’s pathetic, it’s been going on for years.”

Part of the reason why Woodside Terrace is so notorious for harmful fumes is the steep incline traffic must climb as it turns onto the A472.

Despite there being two lanes for vehicles at the foot of the hill, the road almost immediately becomes a single carriageway which lorries and other heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) struggle to climb, spewing out foul-smelling fumes as their drivers drop into lower gears.

Around 100 metres beyond the end of Woodside Terrace, the speed limit becomes 60mph and a dual carriageway on the uphill side, meaning the houses on Woodside Terrace are located in the middle of a dangerous bottleneck where lorries struggle uphill and vehicles race downhill, and all the way the invisible exhaust fumes fill the air.

“The lorries are the worst, stopping and starting,” Mrs Gurner said. “You see the size of some them struggling to get up the hill.

“It’s still noisy at 3am, because that’s when the lorries speed downhill because the road’s quiet.”

The future of Hafodyrynys Hill is now the centre of an Caerphilly County Borough Council feasibility study, as the authority explores the relative pros and cons of six possible solutions.

The most drastic option on the table is to demolish the houses at the top of Woodside Terrace, including Mrs Gurner’s home, and widen the road to accommodate two lanes.

This would allow cars to pass struggling lorries but would do nothing to reduce harmful emissions.

Alternatives include changing traffic signal timings at the foot of the hill; introducing ‘queue detectors’ on that same junction; banning HGVs at peak hours, introducing a ‘low emission zone’; and increasing education about air quality.

Residents affected by the traffic and pollution have been invited to share their views on the proposals at Hafodyrynys Village Hall this week, ahead of a county council cabinet meeting tomorrow.

on October 3.

The authority must then submit a final plan to the Welsh government by June 2019.

The timeframe, and the possibility her family will have to find a new home, has made it difficult for Mrs Gurner to find partial solutions to the traffic problem.

“We wanted new glazing but what should I do?” she asked. “Get it and hope the council doesn’t knock the house down? We’re stuck.”

The traffic situation has made it particularly difficult for people to sell their properties, she said, and several of the houses on Woodside Terrace lay uninhabited.

This has caused further problems, with more than one of those houses broken into recently.

Mrs Gurner admitted she wouldn’t oppose the council if the final report recommended demolishing the homes.

One of the local county councillors, Mike Davies (Plaid Cymru), said he would “fight the residents’ corner” in the event the authority pushed for demolition.

“My main interest is with the residents there,” he said. “We’re in a position where I feel doing nothing is not an option.

“It seems the easiest thing would be for the homes to be compulsory purchased and knocked down, but the residents need quality homes.

“It’s a sensitive situation and I really feel for the residents living there.

Cllr Davies said the council would have his “full support” but that it was “important we listen very intently to what the residents have to say.”

His fellow councillor for the Crumlin ward, Carl Thomas (Labour), said it was important “not to think about one option at the moment”.

“I want to go through all the options,” he said. “The process takes time. I’m sure come June people will know a bit more about what will be done.”

About a mile uphill from Woodside Terrace, in the village of Hafodyrynys, the road opens out and the valley widens, allowing exhaust fumes to dissipate more easily.

In the village’s café, Breakfast in Bread, owners Debra and Wayne Simpson said they didn’t find the village any more polluted than any other area they’d lived in.

“We get a lot of passing trade, as well as local support,” Mrs Simpson said.

“We haven’t discussed pollution with our customers, but we do discuss the quarry.”

Mrs Simpson was referring to the proposed quarry at the nearby beauty spot known as Tirpentwys Cut or the ‘canyon’.

Residents have long campaigned against the plans, saying an increase in HGVs on the A472 will worsen the current problems with road safety and air pollution.

This week, those campaigners will meet the Welsh government’s planning inspectorate to present their case, ahead of a public inquiry into the quarry proposals, due to begin in mid-January next year.

“There’ll be more heavy traffic, with huge lorries full of stone, causing road blockages and the slowing of traffic,” Mrs Simpson said.

It remains to be seen how traffic from the quarry, if it is proposed, will affect the people living on Hafodyrynys Hill.

One of the café’s customers, Bryan Cook, said the traffic on the A467 had changed dramatically during his lifetime.

“When I was a kid I used to walk around, no problem, but now I’d be scared to death to let me grandkids out,” he said.

“It’s totally dangerous. The road is a disaster and the amount of traffic is horrendous.

“It isn’t fair on the people living in those houses. Something needs to be done.”