Waltham Forest calls on government to act faster on invisible national health crisis

15 January 2019
Children playing by the green wall

Following the announcement earlier this week of the long overdue national Clean Air Strategy by the Government, Waltham Forest Council has called on them make up for lost time and to act faster to tackle the invisible public health crisis that is gripping the country.

In recent years the north east London council has been pioneering in trying to improve the quality of air that its residents breathe by encouraging residents to use more sustainable modes of transportation, redesigning roads to rebalance the priority of its roads in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and those using public transport, requiring developers to build environmentally friendly new housing, introducing electric vehicle charging points, as well as working to improve the air for our youngest and most vulnerable residents by engaging with schools to encourage staff and children to walk, scoot and cycle to school, alongside holding anti-idling operations outside the school gates.

Only last week Waltham Forest Council installed a new Green Wall at Woodside Primary Academy in Wood Street, Walthamstow, after securing funding from DEFRA, to help block poisonous pollutants from motor traffic exhausts, tyres and brakes on the neighbouring main road entering the school playground and into the lungs and bodies of our youngest residents.

Last year a report by the independent Environmental Research Group at King’s College London showed that Waltham Forest Council’s efforts to reduce air pollution had resulted in an increased life expectancy among children of at least six weeks, and that additional physical activity- through regular walking and cycling, was also helping to improve health outcomes of our residents.

Additional research carried out for the council by the Air Quality Consultants last year also showed that the number of households exposed to more than the EU recommended maximum amount of nitrogen dioxide had dropped dramatically, from 58,000 in 2007 to 6,300 in 2017.

Following yesterday’s announcement of a new Clean Air Strategy by the Government, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment, Councillor Clyde Loakes said: “We have been waiting a long time for the Government to show initiative to tackle the health crisis created by our poor air quality. This announcement is simply just words, that have been years in the making. There are no real commitments or initiatives starting immediately which will help make these aims a reality and it completely ignores the impact of motorised transport on the air that we breathe.

“Air pollution is a crisis now, not one of the future. In Waltham Forest alone around 270 people die every year from illnesses connected to air pollution. This is why we have been ensuring we look at all the many options available to us to help improve the lives of our residents from redesigning roads, to supporting the use of more sustainable modes of transport and working with our youngest residents to help them make walking or riding a bike a healthy travel habit for life, not just for childhood.

“If Government wants local councils to provide the required leadership and deliver on this agenda then it needs to provide the policies and the resources to do that. Once again this was avoided in the announcement.

“To be clear we need a new Clean Air Act, a national diesel scrappage scheme and new robust legislation, for example on idling, that enables delivery and improvements now, not in 2040, when even more current and future residents will have been impacted by poor air quality.”

The Green Wall at Woodside Primary Academy is the first to be installed in the borough. They are proven to be an effective pollution barrier, at a school in Enfield they decreased the daily pollution concentrations in the school playground by 22 per cent.

Headteacher of Woodside Primary Academy Shane Tewes said: “One of the issues for the school has always been air quality in the playground and it’s become more prevalent in recent years where parents have been asking us what are we going to do about their children’s air quality. We have worked with the council to apply for funding for these new green walls and we’re delighted that we’ve been successful. Parents are commenting on how impressive it looks, how it provides privacy for our children and they can see how it is going to improve the air quality in the playground.”