Air pollution: what isn’t counted, doesn’t count

The more we discover about air pollution in London the more we realise that we have been systematically conned.

Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012

The more we discover about air pollution in London the more we realise that we have been systematically conned.

We have discovered that the impacts on our health are much bigger than we expected a few years back and we have also realised that the government has under-stated how widespread poor air quality is.

A few weeks ago I released an inter-active map of NO2 vehicle emissions on London’s roads. It has been both popular and revealing. It is clear from the map that the problem is not confined to central London, with places like Kingston Town Centre in the top ten areas for NO2 emissions.

It also became clear that the national monitoring station on Marylebone Road was not on the worst bit of road in the country as the government told us, but came 1,074th in the long list of London streets with high emissions.

This is important because the government was specifically asked by the European Commission to confirm that Marylebone Road was the worst spot in London. It replied that other, local authority monitoring stations might report higher readings, but they ‘might or might not be’ compliant with European rules on how to operate such monitoring equipment.

We checked with a few and discovered that they probably were compliant, but as long as the government didn’t officially check with the local authorities, then they could continue to deny it to Europe.

Even after exposure of the way our government has misled the European Commission by not providing them with local monitoring data, the government has decided that the best way to deal with the problem is to abolish the requirement for local authorities to do any monitoring at all. This is part of their red tape challenge to do away with lots of environmental regulations.

Obviously, what you don’t count, doesn’t count. If the government goes ahead with its favoured option in the recent consultation paper, then a whole network of hundreds of local monitoring stations and thousands of diffusion tubes, will be junked and we’ll be left in ignorance of local pollution levels.

A couple of years ago, I used the data from the local monitoring station in Putney to show how bad air pollution was in the local high street. A local newspaper combined with people living in the area to launch a big campaign for cleaner air. This successfully generated promises from the Mayor of London about targeted action on cleaner buses.

I’m not convinced that the Mayor has done enough, but he has done something at least and that action was based upon the local monitoring which the government now wants to abolish.

The government also want to abolish the requirement for local authorities to have Air Quality Management Areas. The big problem with this is that action by local authorities to clean up their own vehicle fleets, or to promote traffic reduction is often based upon the existence of such areas.

Also, the Mayor’s London Plan requirements about new developments being air quality neutral and not making things worse are linked to the existence of these areas. I am not claiming that the current regime is effective, but the government seems determined to undermine and scrap the few safeguards we have.

If the government is successful in hiding the local facts about air pollution then it will be a big step backwards in our drive to protect the health of Londoners and make this a cleaner city.

We need all the local authorities and the Mayor of London to stand firm. You can respond to the consultation here

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