Hammersmith & Fulham Council has unveiled plans to create a borough of Clean Air Neighbourhoods to help tackle our toxic air pollution crisis.
A range of measures including tree planting, traffic reduction trials, sustainable drainage schemes, school streets initiatives and improved infrastructure for walking and cycling will work together to improve air quality and people’s health.
“The air on our streets needs to be cleaner. Polluted air makes people ill – especially children. It can be a killer,” said Cllr Sharon Holder, H&F Cabinet Member for Public Realm. “So we’re pioneering a Clean Air Neighbourhood programme to do something about it.”
And Dr Nicola Lang, H&F’s Director of Public Health, said: “Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. Long term exposure to man-made air pollution in the UK is estimated to cause 28,000-36,000 deaths every year. That is equivalent to around 87 deaths in our borough.”
“Air pollution can affect both children and adults. It can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, lung cancer, brain damage and – for older people – the risk of developing dementia. This bold new programme is great news for H&F.” Dr. Lang added.
Air pollution emergency
Motor vehicles are the single biggest cause of London's deadly nitrogen oxide air pollution.
Nearly one in seven early deaths in H&F are attributed to nitrogen oxide air pollution – the eighth highest level in London according to King’s College London (pdf 1.95MB). A further 8.1 per cent of early deaths per year are attributed to small particulate matter.
H&F Council’s 2022 air quality report (pdf 1.84MB) shows that local levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeded the annual average national limits of 40 µg/m3 and World Health Organisation Air Quality Standards of 10 µg/m3 last year.
Find out more about air quality on our website.
Successful trial in south Fulham
Over the past two years, H&F has successfully worked with residents to reduce pollution and congestion in the streets east of Wandsworth Bridge Road in south Fulham, using smart technology.
Now 8,000 fewer cars a day emitting dangerous nitrogen oxide are now entering the area. Carbon dioxide emissions have reduced by one tonne a day. The roads are quieter and safer for pedestrians and cyclists, too, because of the 23 per cent reduction in traffic. The area is even nicer to live in.
“Residents are taking back control of their air,” said Cllr Holder. “Their streets are no longer full of out-of-borough drivers using them as a cut-through rather than to visit south Fulham residents or shop locally.”
Having seen the results, residents in the streets to the west of Wandsworth Bridge Road approached the council about extending this to their area. So we’ve been working with them on how the whole of South Fulham could become a Clean Air Neighbourhood.
We’ll shortly start to trial this on Wandsworth Bridge Road and in the streets to the west of the road. The trial will run for between six and 18 months as required by law.
This will mean new traffic calming, safety and environmental improvements on Wandsworth Bridge Road to make it a better place to live, work and shop.
And it will mean putting smart number-plate recognition cameras in the streets to the west to discourage out-of-borough drivers from using them as a shortcut. The result will be cleaner air and quieter and safer streets for the residents there, too.
Of course, H&F residents with vehicles registered in the borough will be able to go through the cameras without penalty. They’ll also be able to give as many visitors as they want free access through RingGo.
Speaking at the H&F Cabinet meeting which considered the proposals, Wandsworth Bridge Road resident Natalie Lindsay said, “I personally have developed asthma over the last five years, which I've been told is specifically because of air pollution in London. It is great to see that the council is now taking this very seriously through the Clean Air Neighbourhoods programme.”
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- Support from medical experts
Dr Gary Fuller, air pollution scientist at Imperial College London, has been writing a bi-monthly Guardian column ‘pollution watch’ since November 2012.
“Even 10 years ago the number of scientific studies was overwhelming,” he writes.
“Clearly, scientists, politicians, and policymakers need to work more tightly together to translate air pollution evidence into air pollution action.”
A study published in October 2022 has now found that unborn children are affected from poor air quality.
Similar to the effects of smoking, it revealed that air pollution particles inhaled by the mother during pregnancy can negatively affect the foetus’s organ development.
“We have shown for the first time that black carbon nanoparticles not only get into the first and second trimester placenta, but then also find their way into the organs of the developing foetus,” said Prof Paul Fowler, at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
“What is even more worrying is that these particles also get into the developing human brain,” he said. “This means that it is possible for these nanoparticles to directly interact with control systems within human foetal organs and cells.”
And Dr Rudy Sinharay, local researcher and respiratory health expert at Imperial College London, found that shoppers who spend a mere two hours in Oxford Circus put themselves in danger of heart attacks and lung problems.
Poor air quality affects everyone. It poses an even greater risk to those living in more polluted areas or people with pre-existing health issues. There is growing medical evidence highlighting the impact pollution has on the lungs, brains and general health of residents.
He investigated the effects on the heart and lungs of people walking down a busy street with high levels of pollution – and compared them to walking in an area with lower pollution levels.
Patients with pre-existing cardio-respiratory disease were found to have increased cardiac risk following their exposures, and the beneficial effects of walking for healthy volunteers were cancelled out.
“Exposures to poor air quality from outdoor air pollution can have negative effects on lung health, contributing to an estimated 40,000 deaths in the UK each year.
“Poor air quality can affect everybody, but the most vulnerable include children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing cardio-respiratory conditions,” Dr Sinharay said.
“We all have a right to breathe clean air. Cleaning our air should be a priority, to address health inequalities and to protect vulnerable individuals.”
In 2016, a study conducted by the Royal College of Physicians linked air pollution to a number of health problems including lung cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia and – in the long run – people’s life expectancy. It attributes around 40,000 yearly deaths in the UK to exposure to outdoor air pollution.
The report produced a number of major proposals setting out what must be done to tackle the problem of air pollution.
These included specific recommendations for local government, including effective air quality monitoring to track exposure to harmful pollutants in major urban areas and near schools.
- Frequently asked questions
Q. Are Clean Air Neighbourhoods just about cars?
A. Tackling vehicle pollution, which is the single biggest cause of deadly nitrogen oxide air pollution, is an important part – but only a part. Clean Air Neighbourhoods will also see improvements such as more trees, greening, sustainable drainage systems, and changes to make it easier and more pleasant for people to walk or cycle. They will allow for street space to be used by the community for play streets, community theatre or events such as street parties. Further measures to tackle energy use and heating demand will also be brought forward.
Q. How do Clean Air Neighbourhoods work?
A. They keep streets open without physical barriers and give control back to residents. By using the latest automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, they ensure that H&F residents from across the borough can access the area freely and that visitors, deliveries and contractors can get free access via RingGo. Road signs warn out-of-borough drivers about cameras to stop them using residential streets as short cuts.
Q. Who can access a Clean Air Neighbourhood?
A. The restrictions don’t apply to residents from anywhere in the borough, nor to emergency vehicles, buses, taxis and registered local minicabs. Friends, family, carers, deliveries and traders can go through the cameras without penalty once residents give them access without charge via the RingGo parking app. They can also enter the area by other routes, just not those traditionally used by drivers using the area as a cut-through.
Q. How will the local community be consulted?
A. The council will develop Clean Air Neighbourhood trials together with resident groups and will let all residents in the area know before a trial goes live, telling them how they can have their say throughout. During a trial, we will consult widely on what local residents think and make improvements as it continues. We won’t make a trial permanent unless residents support it and the evidence shows the air is cleaner and there is less congestion – as is now the case in the streets to the east of Wandsworth Bridge Road.
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