Air quality: a follow up report

Written evidence submitted by Councilor Paul Braithwaite, London Borough of Camden

For the last nine months Camden’s Health Scrutiny Committee has had a cross-party working group of Councillors investigating the effects on residents’ health of air quality (AQ). On 1st June the group’s draft report and recommendations were presented to the Committee and accepted nem con. After responses from the NHS and Camden officers it will go forward to Camden’s Cabinet. This submission contains key extracts from that report.

(Item 9 of Camden Council agenda and attached PDF)


Summary of EAC submission

1. The health scrutiny working group started from being concerned about the effects of pollution on the health of those who live and work in Camden. We recognise that, going forward, we will need to work co-operatively with neighbouring boroughs and will be dependent on resources and help both from TfL and Defra. We aspire for Camden to be a leading exemplar borough.

2. The biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the public’s understanding - through raising awareness of the health ramifications of not only mortality (up to 10 years off the life of those most at risk) but also morbidity, the day-to-day wellbeing of our residents. The coincidence of poor air quality with hot sunny days is counter-intuitive and simply not understood. It is alarming that in March, April and May this year, there have been forty days out of ninety with airTEXT health warnings of poor air quality in Camden. At present carbon reduction is centre stage but the consequences of air pollution needs to be elevated to similar prominence, because of its cost to the nation’s health and the NHS, which is not collecting the data.

3. In the last three years there have been retrograde and woefully inadequate measures towards bringing London into compliance with EC directives. Without a major initiative, London is in danger of failing to meet required air quality standards during the Olympics - to the nation’s disgrace and the prospective loss of £175m of the broadcasting fees. Even at this 11th hour, serious consideration should be given to making the existing inner-London congestion zone, enforced by the camera network, an LEZ in time for the Olympics with the banning of all diesel vehicles that fail to meet the Euro 4 standard.

4. The single biggest short-term gain could be achieved by addressing London’s 23,000 black cabs, which the Mayor recognised are responsible for more than 30% of central London’s PM10 particulates. Additionally, London’s particulate filters on its 8,000 buses raise levels of NOx, hence NO2. This could be overcome by an urgent programme of retrofitting them with SCR electrolytic filters.

5. Camden is a pioneer of bio-methane fuelled vehicles, with 17 of our own fleet, plus trials with John Lewis and Waitrose delivery vehicles, based out of our Kings Cross transport depot. This fuel has the benefits of being clean, reliable and inexpensive. It is a bi-product of organic waste and anaerobic digestion and, unlike bio-diesel, it does not use up valuable agricultural land.

6. The working group proposes to hold an Air Quality summit this September bringing together all involved parties, stakeholders and interested local citizens. Also, given adequate funding, the group recommends production of a series of educational videos on air quality issues for use in primary schools. We recommend focussing on awareness-raising with groups most at risk, such as those with COPD, cyclists, taxi drivers etc.

7. The group is extremely concerned that the current hiatus in the NHS, coincidental with the move of responsibility for Public Health into Local Authorities, will lead to funding evaporating, staff quitting and activity initiatives - for example walking and outdoor gyms - becoming neglected "Cinderella" services.


Verbatim extracts from the report by

Camden’s Health Scrutiny sub-committee

8. From the chairman’s foreward:

London’s Air Quality (AQ) is consistently in breach of EC laws for air quality standards, which are there to protect the health of our residents and working population.

9. In Camden we have several hot-spots of pollution and they relate to traffic volumes: Tottenham Court Road, Finchley Road, Theobald’s Road, Camden Road, Kentish Town Road, Kilburn High Road for example. The worst example in Camden is the Euston Road.

10. The pollution every day around Kings Cross and St Pancras stations is caused by emissions from the thousands of taxis with diesel engines that queue and drop off and it is exacerbated by the diesel trains that still arrive at both stations. The taxi problem is common to all London station termini and ideally needs addressing with a London-wide approach.

11. Very little has been achieved in the last three years by Defra, or by the GLA. Their focus has been on modelling and seeking delays and waivers, rather than concentrating on bold action to redress our poor AQ. Spraying the worst roads with suppressant glue, the current TfL experiment on the Euston Road, is expensive and is not a practical long-term solution.

12. We need to discourage journeys and encourage cleaner engined vehicles. Whilst Camden cannot single-handedly transform central London’s AQ, we can encourage and participate in co-operation between neighbouring inner-London boroughs and the GLA by sharing our expertise, for example in our pioneering of

bio-methane clean fuel.

13. Mayor Ken Livingstone made big strides by introducing a Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) for heavy goods vehicles inside the M25 in 2008, introduced an inner London congestion zone and added particulate filters to all of London’s buses. Since 2008 Mayor Boris Johnson has made more modest strides and indeed he has worsened the problem in a number of ways:

· Delaying the start date for introducing cleaner engine requirement for "white vans" and taxis from Oct 2010 until January 2012.

· Abolished the western extension congestion zone (WEZ) in December 2010.

· He is removing all bendy buses from London’s road before 2012, with consequential increase in the number of buses to replace them.

· He has reprieved taxis age for acceptable re-registration to 15 years (instead of the 10 years originally proposed), from January 2012.

14. Unfavourable weather conditions and emissions carried from Europe has led to much elevated air pollution levels in London almost daily since mid-March this year. This also resulted in a formal Smog incident over the Easter weekend.

15. ALL diesel vehicles emit particulate matter. Diesel cars are however encouraged by the fiscal policies set by the Department for Transport (DfT). The Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rewards low CO2 emitting vehicles whilst totally ignoring the pollution and health consequences of diesel engines. Even modern diesel cars still emit harmful particles. The working group therefore encourages Camden to follow the lead of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and surcharge resident parking permits by at least £15pa for all diesel engined cars.

16. Currently, several monitoring sites in London, including the Euston Road in Camden, are in breach of European limit values for PM10. Member states are allowed up to 35 days of elevated PM10 levels per year. In 2011, in the 106 days to Easter, London had already exceeded this annual quota. This is clinical evidence to the European Commission that London is not, despite warm words, anywhere near compliance despite the waivers granted and aspirational assurances.

17. It is the immediate prerogative of the Commission to instigate proceedings in the European Court of Justice to impose a penalty of up to £300m for London’s PM10 particulate breaches. Such proceedings would be lengthy.

18. Perhaps more immediately attention-getting is the prospect of the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) withholding 25% of the broadcast revenue from the Olympics, £175m, if London’s AQ is in exceedence during the Olympics. This looks to be highly likely, given the proposed dedicated road lane network for Olympic traffic, which is bound to exacerbate traffic congestion in London.

19. Despite assurances to the contrary, to avoid that costly penalty, it may be necessary to introduce a daily alternate odds and evens number plate ban during the Olympics, as happened in the Bejing.

20. While this report cannot bring about any immediate solutions, we hope it will provide focus and begin to increase public understanding of this worrying silent killer that affects our residents in Camden. There follow a number of practical recommendations commended to Camden’s Councillors and officers. We encourage Camden’s Cabinet to make improving AQ a priority alongside its serious commitment to carbon reduction.

21. Recommendations (in full):

Developing public understanding

21.1 The working group recommend that Camden Council hosts an Air Quality Summit in September to invite participation by residents and third sector organisations to hear from Kings College, Defra, TfL, CAL and the NHS about Air Quality health impacts, per Camden’s recent Green Summits.

21.2 We recommend that Camden’s Sustainability team looks at implementing targeted air quality campaigns at both polluters and those most vulnerable (for example cyclists AND taxi drivers) to the effects of air pollution and produce a strategy and prospective budgets. We suggest seeking funding from the RAC Foundation, European Commission, TfL, Wellcome Trust, Defra etc. to create a series of modular videos for primary schools.

21.3 We recommend a link with Camden North Reach team to utilise the successful Kings College smartphone App and the soon-to-be-revised AirTEXT system with COPD rehabilitation service patients, incorporating these alert systems into the wider COPD service.

21.4 We recommend that the Council pilot air quality awareness days through the Council and local NHS websites and staff intranets. Further, the Council should encourage local communities to propose local car-free days and cycle to school experiments.


21.5 We recommend that the Council work in partnership with neighbouring boroughs, the GLA and TFL to create a Berlin-type central London LEZ inside the congestion zone, banning all diesel engine vehicles that do not meet Euro 4 standards, to be introduced as an emergency measure for the Olympics - with a view to extending subsequently. The working group recognises the complexity of this task but notes the likelihood of £175m withholding of broadcast rights revenue unless such a measure is instigated.

21.6 We suggest a London-wide approach to Taxi pollution. We recommend TfL introduce a telephone hotline for Londoners to report both buses and taxis that are emitting soot, as traps are obviously proving ineffective. We encourage working with the PCO and Defra towards fast-track introduction of clean fuel taxis through a scrappage scheme and an urgent focus on an immediate pan-London approach to station termini queuing and loading. Camden should seek to greatly increase the number of simultaneous loading positions at Kings Cross and St Pancras and encourage the use of Marshals.

21.7 Camden should seek to share its expertise (for example pioneering bio-methane clean fuel) and encourage co-operation between neighbouring boroughs (for example, reciprocal use of charging points) and with the GLA to work on projects to improve AQ, increase transparency and public understanding.

21.8 We recommend that the Sustainability team considers and reports on how the Council plans to take action against idling vehicles.

Camden’s Air Quality Action Plan, communication and partnership working

21.9 The working group recognise that Camden has a comprehensive Air Quality Action Plan. However, we recommend that AQ is elevated up the sustainability agenda within Camden Council, especially in terms of raising public understanding. It should be equal in status to climate change and be integrated into the Council’s strategies and those with local partners. For example, our current Climate Change Alliance should be encouraged to follow the City of London’s new ground-breaking "City Air" initiative to businesses and add to its current CO2 focus raising the profile of AQ to businesses

21.10 We recommend that the Council and NHS include data on AQ in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and use this as the springboard for negotiating local strategies and as a platform for raising understanding and awareness of AQ issues.

21.11 We recommend that Camden’s Sustainability team establishes links with the NHS for joint working by implementing a Council/NHS Communications plan on AQ. The current process of absorption of Public Health within the local authority is noted to be a period of considerable risk but it also presents an opportunity to strengthen and integrate. The Sustainability team should appoint an officer to lead on this project and act as a conduit for the key players, potentially with clinicians at RFH and UCLH.

21.12 We recommend that the Council and NHS seek financial funding and support from DEFRA and the GLA, to commission a study looking at perceptions of AQ effects in Camden, comparing Somers Town ward with a ward in the north of the borough.

Councillors Paul Braithwaite,

Samata Khatoon and Maya de Souza


22. Taxis

The working group has grave concerns about the number of dirty-engined old taxis in London. Just 23,000 back cabs are responsible for more than 30% of PM10 emissions in Central London, in part due to queuing at and rat-running to railway stations. The GLA is introducing marshals at Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston but there are doubts whether this can succeed in persuading taxis not to keep their engines idling. The working group wishes to further explore a by-law to preclude taxis from picking up from Camden stations unless they have a Euro 4 engine. But this is a London-wide issue and would best be addressed by the Central London Transport Partnership. We recommend a new TfL 24-hour dedicated hotline to report both taxis and buses emitting soot, using photo proof from smart phones.

23. Buses

With regard to improving emissions from London’s bus fleet, Camden has encouraged TfL to consider the use of biomethane gas. This would significantly reduce air pollutant emissions when compared to the diesel fleet – PM10 by 90% and NOx by 60%, and with added benefits in terms of the fuel savings which would also be achieved. The working group encourages TFL to retrofit all London’s 8,000 fleet with SCR electrolytic NOx filters - because the particulate traps currently used have had the unfortunate side-effect of boosting NOx, hence NO2. With the recent news that the Transport Secretary is providing the Mayor of London’s office with £5m to improve air quality in London, it is hoped that this fund could be used in such a way.

24. Motorcycles

The side effect of the congestion zone being free to motorbikes has been detrimental.  This is because it has hugely boosted sales of scooters and motorbikes for commuters.  Contrary to the public’s perception, motorbikes, particularly those with two stroke engines (which burn oil as well as petrol) are far from clean.  These new motorcycle commuters are contributing to central London's pollution whilst riders enjoy a free ride, whilst doing nothing for the rider's health. The Mayor's experiment of allowing motorbikes alongside bicycles in bus lanes has been poorly received by cyclists and has apparently not reduced motorbike accident rates.

25. Cycling

The working group has concerns about the effect that air pollution has on all people who take strenuous physical exercise outdoors on or close to main roads in the borough. Cycling has increased enormously in London in recent years and Camden has led the way. The Barclay bike hire scheme has given cycling a big boost and has introduced thousands of newcomers to the benefits of cycling, many of whom have become new cycling commuters. This has been encouraged by the Mayor of London's introduction of new "Cycling Superhighways". However, these radial routes have been superimposed on and around already overloaded main arterial roads, such as the A23 through Clapham………   There is a need to educate cyclists (and pedestrians) to use parallel side roads wherever possible and understand how bad our clogged roads are for health.

26. Bio-methane fuel

Biomethane gas is a clean and renewable transport fuel. It has attractive financial benefits, being priced at approximately 20% below diesel. Lorries and large vans which run on biomethane comply with the particulate matter emission standards set by the London Low Emission Zone, hence saving a £200 daily charge. Biomethane gas vehicles operating before 2012 are exempt from the Mayor’s congestion charge scheme. Gasrec is the Europe’s leading commercial producer of liquid biomethane fuel. The fuel is being produced from landfill gas released during the decomposition of organic waste. The landfill gas is then upgraded to liquid bio-methane which can be used in vehicles run on compressed or liquid natural gas.

27. Low Emission Zones

The working group is interested in Low Emission Zones (LEZs) and whether we could implement an LEZ in Camden in partnership with other boroughs through the Central London Air Quality Cluster Group. An LEZ aims to reduce the pollution of diesel–powered vehicles in London by surcharging vehicles that fail specific emission standards (eg Euro 4). Like the congestion charge, an LEZ could be monitored using automatic number plate recognition cameras. It is proposed that different vehicles would be affected over time and tougher emission standards could be implemented progressively.

Developing Public Understanding

28. Thus far the view has prevailed that authorities should not risk causing public concern. The working group takes the alternative view that it is time to be more candid, so that AQ does not stay below the radar.

29. Camden residents can access the airTEXT service which provides AQ alerts via a free text message, voicemail or email about the prospect of air pollution the next day - but only 92 Camden users are registered. Additionally the trigger thresholds that are used were set in 1998 and do not match those recognised by the World Health Authority (WHO). The working group recognise that this is a London-wide scheme but there is an urgent need to upgrade this service and publicise it. COMEAP is in the process of bringing in new contemporary thresholds.

30. The working group was very impressed with the King’s College iPhone App and although it is recognised that this service is not universally accessible it was interesting to hear that their most subscribed site for users of the App is in Bloomsbury.

31. Camden has in hand a new exemplar innovation:

a real-time visual display to be erected soon on the Euston Road, beside the Town Hall (south side). Given that the Euston Road is one of London’s worst hot spots, the working group recommend that this sign (funded by Defra) be bold in conveying the local

poor air quality to raise awareness of risks to health of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike. A nearby billboard states that 1,600,000 people pass by every two weeks, so it will certainly be seen by vast numbers of drivers, bus passengers and pedestrians.


3 June 2011

Prepared 17th June 2011