• Clean Air

Tackling air pollution at a neighbourhood level

#NationalCleanAirDay is on July 15, and www.cleanairday.org.uk, includes helpful suggestions on how you can reduce the amount of pollution you create and how you can reduce your exposure to it.

To many, such advice only serves to highlight the limited power individuals have in dealing with this issue – the website doesn’t have much to say about what the government or polluting industries are doing to keep us safe.  At a time when air quality is in the news more than ever before, with shocking data on the health effects on children, the numbers of early deaths pollution creates, and reports on the six days it took for London to break its legal limit this year, government policy in the form of the new plan to address carbon dioxide levels primarily associated with diesel has been dismissed as woefully underpowered.  Among those to raise questions about the likely efficacy of measures such as clean air zones have been NGO Client Earth, who sued the Government in 2016, successfully arguing that plans were so inadequate as to be unlawful.  The new plan, they argue, passes the buck onto local authorities who have little power and even fewer funds to tackle systemic issues such as air quality.

Local authorities generally publish their own ‘Air Quality Action Plans’ which further highlights the limitations they face.  Aside from air quality monitoring stations, action to reduce traffic through particular areas and the implementation of green infrastructure, plans are generally focused on disseminating information and best practice.  Equally however there can be a lack of consideration on the neighbourhood level approach from town halls, who instead can apply one-size-fits-all policies in boroughs with widely varying environmental issues, pollutants and severity.  In Waterloo, PM10s - heavy particulate from braking, elevated trains - leaves nearby windowsills black with dust.  Airborne debris from rolling construction is a problem here but not in other areas.

Local people, particularly in inner city neighbourhoods, are very focused on taking action where increasingly the data cannot be ignored.  In Waterloo we are lucky enough to have KCL’s Environmental Research Group and its public facing arm the London Air Quality Network.  Kings’ academics have been helpful in advising the BID and the area’s neighbourhood forum SoWN on what might be done at a local level.  They ran a fascinating experiment for SoWN in 2016 which engaged local people to walk pairs of heavily trafficked and less busy parallel routes, reporting up to 70% difference in NO2.  This helped the Forum develop a policy which imposed particular design obligations on developers along the less polluted routes, including contributing to a more pedestrian friendly streetscape, stepping back from the pavements, implementing green infrastructure to barrier cars from pedestrians, and building places to rest and park bikes.  The neighbourhood forum calls this network of streets ‘Greenways’.

But many feel that reducing exposure isn’t enough and that such policies fail to hold polluters to account.  Diesel taxis form snaking queues around Waterloo station, tourist coaches keep their engines running in bays in residential areas and inadequate thought is being given to deliveries coming into the area.  The Waterloo BID and the neighbourhood forum share the ambition of addressing the source of these problems through policy and action.  In addition, both organisations are committed to holding developers to high standards appropriate to the size of the problem, including asking them to ensure buildings provide appropriate levels of green infrastructure, mitigate air quality inside and out, and are careful about how construction impacts on local people, for instance by employing dust supressing measures and only using clean vehicles.

These ideas are only a start, but they highlight the degree to which people are willing to take action which serves to protect their health.  We are always keen to talk through ideas on air quality with local residents and businesses – get in touch with Mark Hone, Operations and Services Manager at mark@wearewaterloo.co.uk.

Ben Stephenson

Chief Executive