Be alert: noise and smog must be reduced

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Noise pollution from Heathrow already affects Southwark residents

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has published its report The Airports Commission Report Follow-up: Carbon Emissions, Air Quality and Noise. Though the report focuses on the Heathrow expansion plans, the Committee noted with concern the air pollution levels in London and the lack of action to tackle the problem.

The Transport Secretary previously stated to the Committee that the issue of air pollution must be tackled before the new runway becomes operational through greater use of low emissions vehicles, but the Committee has no confidence that the Government will meet its own target (60% of new vehicles being ultra-low-emission) by 2030.

Back in 2012 Southwark Green Party petitioned Southwark Council, triggering the first full council discussion of air pollution. We asked the council to publicise information services, specifically AirTEXT, to residents so they could take action to reduce their own exposure. We asked them to tell head teachers about AirTEXT so they could look out for more vulnerable pupils on ‘bad air days’. By 2016, there were only 258 people across the borough signed up to AirTEXT.

This year, SGP responded to Southwark Council’s draft Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan, calling for bolder action. The council has promised a ‘plan’ for an ‘awareness raising programme to be devised by April 2018’. We suggested that this was far too sluggish for an information service that already exists, with a council that already has a communications department! We suggested that public services and points of public contact such as local shops and amenities, sports centres, GP practices and community centres should be encouraged to register for airTEXT alerts and promote public awareness.

Coincidentally, the new report from the Environmental Audit Committee calls on the Government to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on an air quality alert system for people who are especially vulnerable to the effects of short-term expose to pollutants - something SGP fully supports!

Of course, alerts are a good idea, but they are no replacement for cutting air pollution. Alerts mean asking children and older people to stay inside - when we should instead be asking drivers to leave their cars at home. Local and national plans must include measurable actions such as the phasing out of diesel vehicles, improving anti-idling enforcement, and improving public transport and cycling and walking links to encourage safe walking and cycling to work and school.

SGP has recently been putting up nitrogen dioxide pollution monitors in Peckham, Camberwell and London Bridge, so look out for the results over the next few months. These will show average levels of pollution over time, rather than giving information about episodes of particularly high pollution. The average levels are very important too, since the damage to the human body is cumulative - rather like smoking several cigarettes a day (as discussed in this article in The Economist).

If you are interested in finding out about airTEXT or signing up for alerts you can read more here.


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