Air Pollution in Outer London

On the 20th October, my local M.P. Bob Neill issued this tweet: “In the House of Commons pressing ministers on air quality targets in the Environment Bill again this afternoon. We need to make real progress on particulate pollution now, not just in city centres but in suburban areas like Bromley & Chislehurst too”. You can see his speech and the minister’s response here: https://twitter.com/neill_bob/status/1450832879798439941 .

He expressed concern about particulate pollution specifically in “hot spots” and asked for a hot spot policy. My response was “I’m not convinced that particulates are a problem in Bromley, at hotspots or anywhere else. Seems you have been listening to the eco-fanatics” and “Bromley meets all the national standards for particulates. See the councils air quality action plan….”. It generated a number of comments from other contributors including a claim that only one location is monitored in Bromley (only true for particulates as there are 10 locations for NO2 monitors which provide good measures of air pollution).

You can read the latest Bromley Air Quality Annual Status Report published in July here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/6833/air_quality_annual_status_report_2020.pdf . The report makes it clear that for both particulates and NO2 the pollution is within national standards. It is also clear that pollution levels have been falling substantially in recent years.

Further responses were received from members of an organisation called Fresh Air Bromley (see https://freshairbromley.org.uk/ ) which apparently is a spin-off from the LibDem Party in Bromley. They have installed a number of particulate monitors (both PM2.5 and PM10) in Bromley and published the data on their web site. The reported figures are all very low apart from at Harwood Avenue (the Council’s own monitoring location) but even there the numbers are within national standards.

This data does not show there is a significant particulate problem in Bromley which is no doubt why they say this on their web site: “We are looking for people to host an air pollution monitor! We are especially looking for hosts who live near possible air pollution hot spots (traffic junctions, schools, etc.)”.

This work is a useful contribution to the air quality issue. But does it demonstrate a major “hot spot” problem? I do not believe it does. I am not saying that there are not locations in Bromley where air pollution is a concern – mainly where there is heavy traffic such as on Widmore/Tweedy Road (photo above). Exposure to high pollution levels may be limited though as the duration of exposure of vehicle users or pedestrians is limited and such roads are not generally residential streets (with a few exceptions).

Car exhausts are being cleaned up by legislation although that may still leave a problem with brake and tire wear. But the big culprits are HGVs and buses and the emissions from vehicles at congestion hot spots. Remove the congestion and air pollution will improve.

Fresh Air Bromley have not demonstrated that existing pollution levels are a major health hazard. As regards particulates, a large proportion of particulates blow in from outside Bromley, or even outside London. Some of it comes from natural sources such as dust storms and agriculture. You also have to bear in mind that particulates are generated in the home from such activities as cooking and from open fires – particularly the modern fashion for wood burning stoves. Historically people have lived with high levels of particulate pollution for thousands of years.

I covered air pollution in another outer London borough (Lewisham) in a previous blog post – see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/09/11/air-quality-in-lewisham/ . It references the Government’s COMEAP reports on the medical effects of air pollution and an FFDF publication on “Air Quality and Vehicles”.

In conclusion, is air pollution a significant problem in outer London boroughs such as Bromley? The answer is surely NO.

Roger Lawson

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Air Pollution Data in London Does Not Support Mayor’s Claims

Yet again the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has used school children to promote his policies to expand the ULEZ in a photo-shoot. He said “In central London, the world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone has already helped cut toxic roadside nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half and led to reductions that are five times greater than the national average”.

But in fact a recently published report by the London Borough of Lewisham shows that air pollution has fallen dramatically in recent years even in outer London boroughs. This is clearly the result of changes to vehicles and in 2020 by Covid lockdowns reducing traffic.

This is what we have said to supporters of our campaign against the Lewisham LTNs:

There is major public concern on the impact of the road closures in the LTN on air pollution because they have diverted traffic onto surrounding roads. Such roads as Burnt Ash Road, Lee High Road, Lee Road, the South Circular and others are residential roads and there are reports of increased air pollution.

A useful report (at least to some extent) has just been published by Lewisham Council. It contains their “Air Quality Annual Status Report for 2020” (available from this page: https://tinyurl.com/pmhsu6up ).

The report contains measurements of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (PM2.5) over the last few years up to the end of 2020 from about 50 sites across the borough. An additional 51 sites were added in September 2020, many located within the LTN such as on Manor Lane and Burnt Ash Road, but that was of course after the Lee Green road closures were instituted. It is therefore impossible to see the impact of the road closures as no proper “before and after data” has been collected and the Covid lock-down measures will also have complicated any analysis. The biggest reduction occurred in the last two years but that might be due to reduced traffic volumes.

However the data shows that there have been consistent falls in pollution since 2014 (an average decrease of 38% for the seven year period). The levels reported are now all within the National Air Quality Standards, although some people argue that those standards should be raised.

It is no doubt the case that the falls in air pollution levels that have taken place prior to 2020 and continued in that year have occurred due to cleaner vehicles. Older vehicles have been scrapped and standards for new vehicles have been raised by Government regulation – for example by the move to Euro 6 standards. 

The borough supports the Mayor of London’s commitment to reduce the PM2.5 limit but as the report says “a large percentage of PM2.5 in London comes from regional and other transboundary (non-UK) sources”. It is clear that action on particulates, which is probably more important in health terms than NO2, needs to be taken at a national or international level.  In other words, local LTNs in Lewisham are not going to have a significant impact on background levels of air pollution.

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