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Council calls on government to go further with clean air strategy

by Emma Snaith

Mums for Lungs supporters at Olley’s Fish Experience with part of Red Line Action’s Clean Our Air willow cane sculpture

In a bid to improve air quality, Lambeth Council has appealed to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to revise the government’s draft Clean Air strategy.

Councillor Claire Holland, Cabinet Member for Environment and Clean Air, launched a petition in August calling for increased funding for air quality measures and a 2030 target for the phase out of diesel and petrol-only cars.

The council also called on the government to ensure that existing air quality standards are maintained after Brexit and to introduce a national clean air campaign.

Referring to the government’s current draft Clear Air Strategy, Councillor Holland said: “We don’t believe the government is doing enough to tackle air pollution and therefore our citizens will continue to suffer.”

The launch of the petition followed research revealing that in 2018, Brixton Road was again the first place in London to breach air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, according to a study by King’s College London’s Air Quality Network.

The network’s air quality report for Lambeth showed that nitrogen dioxide levels have exceeded legal hourly limits of 200ug/m3 83 times since January – a limit which is not meant to be exceeded more than 18 times a year.

This year, it was also found that Lambeth’s trees and vegetation removed the least amount of pollution from the air out of any region in the UK, according to figures released by the Office of National Statistics.

In order to tackle air pollution in Lambeth, Councillor Holland said that “all levels of government have a role to play in cleaning up our air”.

“Until now local authorities, the Mayor of London and local pressure groups have been doing everything they can to improve air quality,” she said.

Red Line Action’s Clean Our Air willow cane sculpture under construction

“But central government has tried to wash its hands and ignore this crisis. Urgent action is needed. Some of the most vulnerable in our society are suffering: the young and the old.”

The government launched the consultation for its draft long-term Clean Air Strategy in May, three months after the high court ruled that the government’s current policy on air pollution was “unlawful” for the third time. The final strategy will be published in March 2019.

Dr Gary Fuller, who leads King’s College London’s Air Quality network and is a member of a DEFRA advisory group, said:

“It is estimated that air pollution in London is linked to up to 9,400 early deaths each year. If the water that came from your tap was killing so many then there would be outcry.

“We need actions on air pollution that reflect the size of the problem.”

Green opposition leader Cllr Jonathan Bartley agrees with Cllr Holland that the government needs a more radical strategy. However, he said that the council’s petition “doesn’t go nearly far enough”.

“Lambeth should end its dirty waste incineration, stop charging residents who want to close roads on car free day, and issue fines for engine idling.”

“Nationally we need to scrap HS2, which is costing £56bn, and put £500 million into local transport infrastructure in 100 towns and cities instead to get people out of their cars,” he said.

“We should cut back on the road building budget and use the money to increase the walking and cycling budget to £2 billion”.

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon said she “firmly supported” the measures set out in Councillor Holland’s petition.

She suggested further measures could be introduced to improve air quality in London including cancelling plans for the construction of a third Heathrow runway and the proposed Silvertown road tunnel.

“I believe far more effective action needs to be taken to reduce air pollution created by boats and ships that use the Thames, and in particular it is vital that the Enderby Wharf development [in Greenwich] only allows liners which use on-shore power,” she added.

In defence of Lambeth Labour’s record, Cllr Holland said, “While Cllr Bartley and the Lib Dems seem oddly focused on the national high speed rail link to Birmingham or a ferry terminal in Greenwich, we implemented the Brixton to Streatham Low Emission Bus Zone in partnership with the Mayor”.

“We have already built green screens at St Helen’s and Corpus Christi Primary Schools, and we will build another four in 2018/19. We are planting more and more trees [3,000 between 2009 and 2017].

“We continue to work on projects such as idling action and the London Low Emission Construction Partnership funded by the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund.”

At the Lambeth Country Show in July, more than 435 people signed a petition to Lambeth Council for School Streets – safe low-pollution zones around schools at pick-up and drop-off times. The petition was later delivered to Cllr Holland.

Activist group Red Line Action worked with four Southwark primary schools to produce a giant willow cane sculpture spelling out “CLEAN OUR AIR”. The sculpture was displayed at the Lambeth Country Show, and then on the roof of award-winning Herne Hill sustainable fish and chip restaurant, Olley’s Fish Experience, where it could be seen by rail travelers.

“Engaging children on the dangers of air pollution is crucial in raising awareness of London’s illegally dirty air” said Jemima Hartshorn, founder of South London air quality campaign group, Mums for Lungs.

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