On October 16th, 2013 the “No to Silvertown Tunnel” campaign held a public meeting at The Forum in Greenwich to announce the results of our NO2 air pollution monitoring experiment. The following post features transcripts, slides and video from that meeting.
Chris Taylor: So, you’ve heard a little bit about what we’ve done, a little bit about the pollutants in the atmosphere, about the effects of increased traffic and even, counter-intuitively, how the tunnel is likely to attract even more traffic, and now we’re going to talk about the campaigning aspect, and how we can start to move things forward for ourselves.
I’d like to introduce Siân Berry. Siân’s a sustainable transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport and has been running the campaign ‘Roads to Nowhere’. She was also the Green candidate for Mayor, previously, and has been successful in contributing to defeating the previous Thames Gateway project. So over to you, Siân, thank you.
Hi, thanks for having me.
As introduced, I’m a campaigner, and I work for a group called the Campaign for Better Transport. We were called Transport 2000 when we were involved in campaigning in this area before. My job is basically to look after people who are local campaigners who want to try and stop new roads being built in their areas. I also work on other roads campaigns around the country, and just to talk a little bit more about what Simon and Ian were talking about:
Simon [Birkett] talks about there being powerful laws against breaches of air quality limits, and there really, really are. We know that at a national level, the government is getting very very worried about some of its road building plans being challenged by people who have found places that are just below the limits that are going to be pushed over the limits by new road building plans.
I spent most of this morning talking to local radio and papers and TV in the east of England, because the A14 scheme, which aims to put a giant new road between Cambridge and Huntingdon will deliver traffic directly into two Air Quality Management Areas (LAQM) that are hovering on the border. Nothing like the figures that you already have here in London, but the government and the Highways Agency are worried about the challenge that we’re putting up to that road, because of these very strong laws on air quality. So I think the things we’ve seen here today: the awful air quality you already live in, the fact that this road will put loads more traffic into your area – just dump it into this existing soup of air pollution – is a really strong aspect of what can campaign on.
I’m here partly because my organisation – and when it was called Transport 2000 – was involved in the campaign against the Thames Gateway Bridge. This was proposed for the Gallions Reach site – as John said – since the Dark Ages! But the last time was in the early 2000s, mid 2000s. I’ve been going through our files in the office this, and I’ve got a document that dated back to 2002 on our computers, so presumably we had some before we had computers as well.
So this is the last incarnation of that bridge, and what’s unique about that is a number of things, but mainly that when it came up to go through the planning system the campaigners were given a gift by the promoter of the scheme, the Mayor of London. Not out of the goodness of his heart, but because there were Green Assembly Members there on the Assembly who had a casting vote on his budget. And he wasn’t going to give up on putting the Thames Gateway Bridge into his future budget, and they basically said, “well, if you’re going to do that, can we have tens of thousands of pounds, please, to put towards people objecting to roads so that they can get expert help?”
And that was absolutely decisive.
I heard from Jenny Bates here from Friends of the Earth, who was involved in that, earlier on, that the barristers and QCs on the other side, the barristers working for TfL, were actually very pleased to have people on the other side who were equally knowledgeable and equally able to argue.
The inspector himself – I’m assuming it was a man – said that it was helpful to receive the evidence of the expert witnesses, and that it was novel to see that it came from funds for the promoters. So all of those expert witnesses managed to pick the biggest holes ever in the case for the Thames Gateway Bridge.
So just going back to the previous slide, these were some of the factors concerning the bridge that were actually given within TfL’s own documents. 94% of the benefits would go to car drivers, and only 6% to public transport users. This is despite the fact that, in the areas that were supposed to be regenerated and helped by the scheme – which is what they were claiming – only a quarter to a third of them were car owners. It would increase traffic across a very wide area, lots of boroughs would be affected by extra traffic. Traffic would more than double – as John [Elliot]’s studies show. On many roads, the next junction along would just jam up. So we’ve got the same type of thing going on, and that’s just in terms of TfL’s own assessments.
The objectors gave evidence for about a year, I think, between 2005 and 2006. And eventually in 2007 the inspector wrote his report and they got to see what he thought. And according to my summaries that I’ve got from the campaigners that were working on it at the time, he roundly condemned the scheme. And there’s lots of really good quotes in his report. We’ve produced a summary of the best bits.
But there’s some brilliant examples of exactly the things that we’ve been talking about: the road would cause increased congestion, there’d be loads more traffic, the benefits are not used to relieve the problems you currently have, it would encourage people to make longer journeys, there’s more trips generated by the scheme, it wouldn’t improve safety, it would reduce travel by cycling and walking, public transport would be less well used with the scheme than without it. And those are trends that are just completely alien to London in the last twenty years.
The Thames Gateway Bridge would have set things backwards.
Air quality, well, it was an important issue there, but it’s more important now; we have stronger laws, we have more people campaigning on air quality. But even at the time, he drew this point to the Secretary of State’s attention, that air quality would be worse.
“In an area in which air quality has historically been low…[he] did not regard that as acceptable.”
And we know more now than we did then about the effects of air quality and air pollution, so again, then it was a decisive thing.
There were a lot of economic benefits claimed at the time – you always get this, and we’re going to get it again on the Silvertown tunnel: the city needs growth and therefore needs more traffic. This was thoroughly examined during the enquiry. It’s difficult to make a case against because often they don’t give concrete reasons to back up the case they’re making for. But in the end, the inspector didn’t consider their case to be strong enough or reliable enough to outweigh the disbenefits of the scheme. So even on their own terms, even if you strongly believe that new traffic would create growth, it just doesn’t work out – the inspector thought that was not a good reason.
So basically, what happened then? Five thousand people objected to the scheme as a result of the various campaigners who were funded and who were working long before they were funded, in fact, to raise awareness of the thing. The inspector’s report kind of sat on the shelf for a little while, if I’m not mistaken, and the Secretary of State, TfL wondered what to do about this fact. Eventually the government announced it was going to re-open the enquiry, but then the election intervened – in which I was involved, I was the Green candidate. I didn’t have to think very hard about this, about what was my policy – my policy was to cancel the Thames Gateway Bridge. Boris’s policy was to cancel the Thames Gateway Bridge as well, thanks to heavy lobbying from campaigners so when the election happened in May 2008, he did cancel it.
But before that, while they were waiting for the inspector’s report, campaigners also managed to get funds together to commission a set of consultants to look at alternatives. And that’s well worth a look at because these are alternatives that mostly haven’t happened since 2008 and are really good things to promote.
When you’re going through a consultation, promoting alternatives, trying to ensure that TfL has looked at those alternatives properly can be really decisive in going through the planning process, so I’d highly recommend having a look at it. It did some calculations on benefits and different things, and it did come up with a cable car. Now those of you who complain about the current cable car – it was looking at the actual location of Gallions Reach, as a place that arguably could do with more crossings to get people across, not cars, and that was what was proposed. The one that’s there now is possibly not in the right place – in the middle of a crash zone – and hardly anyone uses it, so don’t blame my colleagues and the consultants for that!
They compared it to a large road scheme, and above the road scheme came all these other sustainable transport options. A ferry, a bridge for walking, cycling and buses: the picture at the bottom there is of a bridge that does this in Vienna, crossing about the same amount of river, and it started off as a bus-only, walking and cycling, and I think you can see on it, just about there, there’s actually been a metro line extension put on it. So it’s provided really good links much much cheaper than a road bridge because of the different weights and things. They also proposed the same thing, a light rail bridge, with walking and cycling alongside, and because it’s quite a long way, they also assessed the costs and benefits of a travelator across the bridge. So I think we’d all prefer to have a nice walking, cycling and travelator bridge against a new tunnel or a new bridge at that point.
And third, ahead of building anything at all, was improve transport policies, better public transport in general and traffic management. So the demand management measures that John talked about earlier: park and ride, congestion charge, that sort of thing, are all far better value and far more effective than building new roads.
So hopefully that cheers you up a bit that this thing can be defeated. It has to go through quite a few more stages of planning. It’s been designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. You get a sort of halfway house with that, you don’t get a full public enquiry. There won’t necessarily be that courtroom yearlong thing. The Nationally Significant Infrastructure planning process is supposed to be finished within six months, but before it starts, the idea is that the promoter has to get out of the way all the consultation, and do the consultation really properly.
The local councils get to sign off that the consultation’s been done properly, local people get to campaign and raise awareness and get their objections in early. You can do quite a lot of back-and-forth challenging them for their business cases and things beforehand. If they don’t do all of that, and haven’t done the consultation properly, the examiners are trained to treat that as a bad thing.
I’ve been through a couple of road things under this new process – it is quite new. The first examination last year was quite shoddily done, and it was given approval – it was the Heysham M6 Link up in Lancashire – and we did take it to the High Court to object to the processes that went through, and the High Court did rule that it was pretty inadequate, the way they’d done it, but wasn’t prepared to go as far as overturning the approval. But some of the comments about how improperly it was done were very useful.
The next one that’s going through the same process is in George Osborne’s constituency, in Cheshire, it’s called the A556. For that we’ve identified exactly the air quality problem, with the air quality being slightly below and going slightly above. Their own assessment of it accepts this, it says ‘we must acknowledge that this potential breach is occurring’ so we’ve raised that very strongly with the inspector there, so we’ll see how we do with that, it’s kind of a test case. You have the very strongest case for raising these issues here I think.
To cheer us all up, here’s a picture of all the campaigners – this is more or less the same panel from a meeting at City Hall a couple of weeks ago: we’ve got Simon [Birkett], Ian [Mudway], John [Elliott], Jenny Bates from Friends of the Earth, Darren Johnson of the Greens, and Alan [Haughton] from the Stop City Airport campaign, we’ve got the Network for Clean Air, Friends of the Earth: fantastic experience with exactly this area.
Also, we have other experts on hand – there’s Campaign for Better Transport – as I said, I’m here to help with campaigning. And all these organisations – these national and London transport organisations – joined us in a joint response to last year’s consultation, and we’re all firmly against it as well, and will be helping to campaign against it.
So I think with the ideas we’ve got, with the laws that there are, with the resources that we can get together – I mean, we’re not going to be given £50,000 by Boris, but we can raise money through grant organisations, through fund-raising – and I think we can get a comparable set of experts together to challenge this and beat it again.
This is: “New roads equal new traffic” you must always remember that – it doesn’t equal […] it just equals new traffic. And this is Alan and me crashing the launch of the Bridge the Gap campaign with a giant banner, so we can handle things like that as well!
I’m @Roads2Nowhere – I’ve been tweeting from that account this evening – there’s links to documents there that I’ve recommended.
So I hope you’ll be interested to check it out, that you’ll follow the campaign, that you’ll make sure you join in with our events, and if we all work together we can I think defeat this one, because it’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever seen. Thank you very much!.
“No to Silvertown Tunnel” would like to thank Siân Berry for taking the time to come to Greenwich and discuss some of the issues around new river crossings with us.
Subsequent posts will feature the remainder of the meeting and presentations from Andrew Wood, along with the public Q&A session.
On October 16th, 2013 the “No to Silvertown Tunnel” campaign held a public meeting at The Forum in Greenwich to announce the results of our NO2 air pollution monitoring experiment. The following post features transcripts, slides and video from that meeting.
Chris Taylor: So now you’ve heard from two speakers regarding the issues of air quality and you may still think, “Well, surely, more river crossings; more dispersal might help this problem.”
But unfortunately we don’t believe that to be the case. We have here John Elliott, an independent transport consultant with over 40 years’ experience in all aspects of transport planning. John has worked at the GLC, and is an expert in traffic management and the impact of building new roads. Obviously, as the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign, we would beg you to pay close attention to what John has to tell us. Some of it is almost counter-intuitive and it’s also quite startling.
Thank you. Good evening. First of all, if anybody needs to get in touch with me the [bottom of this page] has contact details, so if people have queries, do come back.
What I wanted to cover was:
Anyway, the Silvertown scheme doubles the capacity across the Thames. I don’t know what’s going to happen to that road [points to A2] because it’s full at the moment, and it’s regulated by the Blackwall Tunnel – if it has twice the capacity, it’ll have twice the volume perhaps. The Silvertown link – I’ve fought two enquiries on it, one for Ken Livingstone and one against Ken Livingstone, because he was in favour of it when it was the Thames Gateway Bridge, well it was the East London River Crossing.
It could be a ferry, which I don’t think would cause a big problem with air pollution where a road certainly would. And the case was made that this scheme would extract traffic from the Blackwall Tunnel and make it work.
The London plan of roads in 1970: Ringway 1 included the Blackwall Tunnel and its approaches. Interestingly, I was involved afterwards, and the modelled flows on that link of road in 1968 were 340,000 vehicles a day on a four-lane road in each direction. It wouldn’t fit; it just wouldn’t, it was physically impossible. And of course this other Ringway [Ringway 2], when you looked at the detail, was exactly where Gallions Reach is now. And that scheme, Gallions Reach – whether it’s renamed a bit like Sellafield – it’s been there since 1944 in various guises.
When I joined the Greater London Council, I was told by the politicians there that roads generate traffic. This was a matter of policy. The government said traffic will increase regardless, and that was a matter of policy. So I tried to be professional, and civil engineers think you build a bypass, it takes traffic away from the area, so it’s good to build bypasses. So I had this difficult situation where the politicians were my masters but I wanted to keep being professional.
So I found all these bits of road had been built, and the GLC had the data. That section of the M25, the M1 extension of the North Circular Road, the M3 and A316, Westway – just off the end of Marylebone Road, Blackwall Tunnel and its northern tunnel approaches, and the M11.
I looked at all of those, and I had really good traffic data between 1966 and 1986 on all those schemes, and they’re sizeable schemes. So what actually happened? I’ll just take a couple of these.
That’s what happened with Westway. This is the Westway corridor, not just the road. Bayswater Road was just as full five years afterwards as it was before. But for the whole corridor, the traffic levels have doubled. This is just on the fringe of central London. Two sort of controls – they’re not ideal controls – the Brompton Road corridor which was Brompton Road, Old Brompton Road, Fulham Road, and the Finchley Road corridor, which was Finchley Road, Abbey Road and St John’s Wood Road. So you can see what happens in other corridors where there’s less road improvements. And you can see there’s very little change, but interestingly there was a change in this period. Both those roads – the Swiss Cottage gyratory was built, and the Earls Court one-way system was changed – so even there, there’s generated traffic but this is the nearest you can get to a control.
That’s the reference to my report, which was re-published by a transport magazine, so anyone can refer to that and it’s a public document that you can get hold of. It was hushed up when the GLC closed.
The Blackwall tunnel: this is peak traffic. It doubles within – this is a before and after study which I think was about six months apart. The total flow on the Blackwall tunnel doubled. Where did it come from? Nowhere, really, it’s all new. Unless there were a lot of amphibious vehicles before, it’s all new traffic. That’s peak.
I think for the Blackwall tunnel it was about three years before the all-day traffic doubled, where it was five years for Westway, it was only about three years for Blackwall. It was really an enormous increase.
Going on to TfL’s reasons that they gave for the scheme in the consultation document:
‘More river crossings will help our city grow’: the claims are all about reducing road congestion and improving reliability and opportunity to enhance environment and access for pedestrians and cyclists. I’ve very slightly paraphrased what they said but you can go back to the document, that’s roughly what they said.
London has grown very substantially in the last twenty years, it has increased by about 2 million, I think. Traffic volumes, even in outer London, are now going down, while there’s been a big increase in population, so do we need more roads to cover less traffic?
More and large roads increase traffic and increase congestion elsewhere – and pedestrian and cyclists! I don’t know how they used that in the consultation.
The second one was ‘improving public transport’ and here they describe extensive improvements to public transport in the region, but state that not every journey can be made by public transport. Well, yeah, you can’t. And in East London a lot has been done on public transport, but also a lot has been spent on roads: the A13 has been upgraded, the route along the south bank through Thamesmead and all that’s been upgraded, Lee Highway (?) has been built. There’s a lot of road-space that’s been added, mainly in a radial direction.
What’s the real evidence more capacity is needed and helpful at either Blackwall/Silvertown or Gallions Reach in particular – if it’s needed? Existing roads are still available. They presently carry a number of commuters into Central London, some of which will transfer with continued improvements to public transport, and if people transfer then there’s more space for essential traffic.
That was their slide to say of network capacity across, road network capacity has only increased a little bit where public transport capacity has increase a lot. All I can say is that’s good, anyway, as far as I can see.
The third case – and somewhat overlapping cases were given by the consultation – ‘the problems we’re trying to solve:’
Are there any other real solutions to traffic problems in the east and throughout London? I would suggest:-
London Assembly response on the consultation: I think it would be helpful to look at this. They made these three bullet points
“TFL should set out clearly the objectives of its proposals for new river crossings, and their different impacts” It’s quite telling that this is obviously a group that still believe – or most of them believe – that road improvements could help. “It would be important therefore for TfL to define the purpose and differential benefits of both proposals under consideration, including a wider range of options beyond the principal proposals of these two road schemes” So: no other proposals.
“Consultation material on potential schemes should acknowledge the different impacts the proposed options could have on local communities in east and south-east London”
“We would like to see more information on the delivery implications. We would also welcome evidence of TfL’s work to manage demand for the crossings.”
That was under principle 1, the first bullet point.
Principle 2: TfL’s consultation process must be transparent. “The information used to underpin the Mayor’s and TfL’s proposal [?] should be available for the duration of the consultation process. The more information TfL provides on the impacts of the crossing, the more legitimate it will make the consultation process. TfL should learn from the successes and failures of other schemes,” and they said that the inspector’s report from Thames Gateway Bridge, where the inspector was very doubtful about the economic regeneration with Thames Gateway Bridge, and he also commented about the second Blackwall Tunnel doubling the flows.
So the summary of the report on the consultation – this is TfL’s comments on their consultation –
“the comments we received highlighted these are issues TfL needs to address in the ongoing river crossings programme” – shame it wasn’t addressd before the consultation.
“The range of opinions for replacing the Woolwich Ferry highlighted that further consultation would be necessary” – there were a lot of opinions there.
“Strong appetite within the public and stakeholders for TfL to consider crossings for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users” that were not included in the proposals.
And finally, last but not least:
“Highlighting potential issues associated with a user charging regime, including how it might work, when it might apply and who would pay.” It seemed there were an awful lot of people who were strongly against the charging regime. And the scheme will not work, and is not worth engaging in at all without some sort of charging regime, I don’t believe.
So what sort of charging regime would you have? This is where I go back to my forty years of dealing with these sorts of things. But trying to break it down:
Scenario 1: Tolls high enough not to increase traffic at all. That would mean diversion of the existing traffic to the existing crossings, negligible benefit – because you wouldn’t get any more traffic through than you’ve got at the moment – for enormous cost, but still traffic gets to the next congestion point quicker, and there are different places for queuing traffic. Now there’ll always be queueing traffic, there’s always an insatiable demand […] There’s the same amount of traffic around, it’ll queue somewhere else if it doesn’t queue at Blackwall.
Scenario 2: No tolls. And the evidence is that you’ll get 100% – or thereabouts – more traffic. Because you’ve got 100% extra capacity.
So, what did TfL say about it in the Report on the Consultation? They go further than just the tolls: “it will be necessary to understand the specific traffic impacts of the potential new crossing options at Silvertown before we could determine whether any further traffic management schemes might be necessary elsewhere in London rather than simply on the approach roads to any new crossing point” It’d never work.
“However in the absence of charging, this additional capacity could attract excessive volumes of traffic” – same thing as I’ve just said.
The funding I haven’t mentioned – obviously – they’ve got to fund it, and funding is an important reason for the tolls.
But then there’s “no decision to be made”, but without some decision, without some ideas about how it’d work, the scheme in my book is dead in the water, and they shouldn’t be consulting on something that can’t go ahead.
So that’s what I hope I’ve covered, and obviously I’ll be open to questions. Thank you.
“No to Silvertown Tunnel” would like to thank John Elliott for taking the time to come to Greenwich and discuss issues of transport planning and induced traffic with us.
John can be contacted by telephone on 01227 765 626 and 07810 204 400 or through his website at www.johnelliottconsultancy.co.uk
Subsequent posts will feature the remainder of the meeting and presentations from Sian Berry and Andrew Wood, along with the public Q&A session.
On October 16th, 2013 the “No to Silvertown Tunnel” campaign held a public meeting at The Forum in Greenwich to announce the results of our NO2 air pollution monitoring experiment. The following post features transcripts, slides and video from that meeting.
Chris Taylor: And to follow on from that, regarding clean air and the effects of clean air on people, we have Simon Birkett with us. Simon’s the founding director of Clean Air in London, and he’s spent more than seven years campaigning against poor air quality, and he’s with us tonight to update us on the 2013 Year of Air. Was anyone aware that this is the European Commission’s Year of Air? No? Not many people, I don’t think, unfortunately. And also we’ll hear how London, how the UK are faring meeting their standards.
Thanks very much, Chris, and thank you all for inviting me.
Yes, 2013 is the European Commission’s Year of Air, which means that they’re going to come up with a package of proposals probably in early December. Commissioner Potočnik, who’s the Environment Commissioner, gave us a bit of a preview of that yesterday, which I’ll share with you.
As Ian said, we’re worried about particles and gases, and within the gases component of air pollution there’s really only one molecule which is regulated, which is nitrogen dioxide. So there’s all the gases in the gases bit of air pollution, but there’s just this one molecule which is regulated, and for which there are World Health Organisation guidelines. And that’s important, because when the Mayor and others say ‘well, I’m not that worried about nitrogen dioxide’, they’re trying to single out one molecule in this whole gases component, and we need to look at nitrogen dioxide as being an indicator of all those gases, but also of the very fine particles which it tends to bounce back and forwards between.
Last week, the UK published its results for 2012, and what that showed was that, broadly speaking, air pollution near the busiest roads in London is twice World Health Organisation guideline levels and legal limits. And London again is the most polluted capital city in Europe for nitrogen dioxide. For the particles, some of the Eastern European cities which are surrounded by coal-fired power stations are worse, but for the air pollution gases London is the worst. So it’s absolutely not right to say that we’re in this with a whole bunch of others. We are the worst, and it’s probably because of the vast number of diesel vehicles: we’ve got 8,500 buses, 22,000 taxis, etc.
The government only admits to having 230,000 people in London exceeding the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, and that’s at background locations and they steadfastly refuse to say what the number is near the busy roads that Ian highlighted. But this nitrogen dioxide problem is not going away. We’ve actually seen the data last week show that over the last 15 years, the long-running urban roadside air pollution monitors have shown no increase or reduction – importantly no reduction – in the levels of nitrogen dioxide. So this problem has been around and has been pretty static for about 15 years near the busy roads, and in part that’s because the government has – successive governments have – failed to control diesel exhausts. So we’ve now got about 50% market share of diesel vehicles, against about 10% ten years ago.
Now, within Greenwich, there’s an app which Clean Air in London have produced, called the Clean Air in Cities app. Using the government’s own statistics, as at today, 7.2% of all deaths in Greenwich are attributable to long-term exposure to air pollution, that’s just human-made pollution. 93 deaths so far this year, and population weighting levels of the particles, which we’re also concerned about, are about 40% above the World Health Organisation guideline. So be in no doubt that this is a big problem: air pollution.
The very good news, is that – there are several bits of very good news – but the first bit of good news is that there are very very powerful laws in place to protect people. They may be breached by a country mile – by a factor of two – but actually the fact that they’re breached does not give the Mayor or others carte blanche to keep breaching them. The European Commission will we hope start infraction action, legal action against the UK in the next few months. Client Earth has won a case at the Supreme Court, and that’s been referred to the European courts to try and enforce these laws in the UK as well as asking the European Commission to help us.
Those laws are very very important. You only have to find one spot that is below this legal limit of 40 micro grammes per cubic metre, and it cannot go above that 40 level. Last week I submitted a nineteen-page letter of complaint to the European Commission about the removal of the M4 bus lane, because guess what? They remove the M4 bus lane, which Sian will object to, I’ll probably object to, but in air pollution terms my biggest objection to it was that they made not one single effort to mitigate the shift in diesel pollution from the outside lane to the inside lane, close to houses. They made no effort to mitigate the increased air pollution for many hundreds of people near that M4. And what I highlighted in particular, is that there were 35 locations, 35 houses where pollution was going from below this legal limit to above it. That is an absolute black-and-white breach of European law, which is totally unacceptable and Clean Air in London has asked the European Commission to investigate.
Now people are getting the message about this. I do a lot of work now – you may have seen me on TV, I do a lot of radio interviews, and there is no doubt talking to those media presenters that the tone has shifted. People are no longer asking ‘is this a problem?’ Clean Air in London published details of diesel exhaust on 40,000 road links in London that it obtained from the Mayor. And all the questions the media are asking are ‘what are we going to do about this problem? Who’s going to sort it and when?’
And the top three solutions from Clean Air in London, which I told the BBC about a month ago, were: first, we need to catch up with Berlin, which banned the oldest diesel vehicles, in fact nearly four years ago. Second, we need to give taxi drivers choice. Currently the Mayor forces taxi drivers to buy one or other of two diesel vehicles. We need to allow taxi drivers to buy smaller petrol vehicles. And we need to retrofit filters to thousands of London buses, not just a few hundred as the Mayor proposes. And what you should all be asking, I would suggest, is why are you in Greenwich not getting cleaner buses, which is what for example Putney’s got by making a fuss about air pollution. Why aren’t you getting it? Why aren’t we getting it in Central London?
The Mayor’s got really a very appalling track record on air pollution, and in particular – by the way, Clean Air in London is a cross-party campaign, it’s very rude about the previous government, so it’s very even-handed! – but the Mayor has faults in two areas, I would say. So I would not trust him to say that he’ll do something to sort it out. He’s pursued vanity projects, like the Boris Buses and things, if you look at his bicycles, they’re hugely over-engineered, they’re sort of like Rolls Royces – much more expensive than the comparable systems that you’ll see if you go to Brussels or anything like that. And the ‘airline’ [Emirates airline: cable car from North Greenwich to the royal docks] I think we’d all agree is a joke.
But he’s also taken backwards steps on key measures like delaying phase three of the Low Emission Zone, scrapping the westward extension of the congestion charge; you cannot trust him to tackle road transport problems. The government of course is even worse. I’d characterise some of the senior cabinet ministers as free market anarchists, who wanted to make changes to the local air quality management system recently, which many of us opposed, which would result in the scrapping of all monitoring of local air pollution across the whole of England. It’s just unbelievable what they’re proposing. They don’t want to have anything to do with this problem; they want to brush it under the carpet.
Now the last thing I’ll say is that – I think Chris said it very well – it’s lovely to say ‘let’s have a bridge’ or ‘let’s have a ferry’ at Gallions Reach or wherever it is; let’s have these lovely things and with the wave of a wand it’ll solve all our problems. We’ll have the existing traffic and much more space. Well, that’s a nice bit of spin. But I’m very persuaded by the evidence you’ll hear from John and others that what happens is, you build these things and they fill up.
And you end up with more traffic than you actually had to start with. So it doesn’t reduce the problem, it actually makes it worse.
And I think what we need is that those who are in favour of river crossings – and there may be a way to do them – have to be honest about how they’re going to mitigate the increases in air pollution that will arrive with these crossings. So they talk vaguely about road pricing or they’ll consider Low Emission Zones or something like that. They absolutely need to be pinned down. They can’t have it both ways; they can’t say ‘we’ll have a river crossing’ and ‘we’ll deal with the problems later.’ They must be open and honest about how they will mitigate the additional traffic that will pour into those crossings. And if they did that, and told people up and down the next five bridges into Central London that they’ll all be paying tolls in order not to shift the traffic from a tolled bridge here to non-tolled bridges further in, then I think there’s be a lot fewer people in favour of new river crossings.
So what we need is bold action, particularly to eliminate diesel exhaust from the most polluted places by 2020 – that’s the Clean Air in London vision. We need to get the Mayor and the other politicians behind this, and I think if we do that, through a mixture of political will, behavioural change and technology, we really can show the whole world how London can lead the way as it did sixty years ago in tackling air pollution. We are the only mega-city in Europe: if we can crack this problem, we really will do something special and I look forward to that opportunity. Thank you.
“No to Silvertown Tunnel” would like to thank Simon Birkett for taking the time to come to Greenwich and discuss issues of air quality with us.
Subsequent posts will feature the remainder of the meeting and presentations from John Elliot, Sian Berry and Andrew Wood, along with the public Q&A session.
Chris Taylor: Not everyone is going to be familiar with what NO2 means to people and what actual effects it has. So fortunately for us we have with us Dr Ian Mudway, who is a lecturer in Respiratory Toxicology at King’s College. Ian has worked with schools just north of the tunnel in Poplar, and his research has shown some of the impacts of the air pollution on children’s lungs
Good evening, everyone.
Sometimes when we get given numbers on maps, it doesn’t mean a great deal and it doesn’t convey to you the sense that air pollution in London is extremely bad. So I thought I’d start this talk by making it a bit more tangible by showing you an image. This is a picture taken in March this year. So this is one of those periods where it’s cold and you get higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide.
And you can see this brown – almost like a cloud hanging over the whole of the city – and this is a cloud of nitrogen dioxide. So forget the number, forget the size of the number though that is important: you can see it from a distance. If you were walking down that street you wouldn’t be able to see it at all, it’s an invisible gas, but from a distance looking across London you can actually see it. And that’s what we all live in. And I’m not immune from this; I’m not from Greenwich although I’m from New Cross so I’m also living under that cloud.
But it’s actually a little bit worse than that: I can show you a picture that was taken earlier in the day. So this was taken in the late afternoon, you can see that the brown is rising above Canary Wharf. But this was taken in the morning.
So this is now a photograph taken from Woolwich looking out across the city. And you can very clearly here see just how bad the nitrogen dioxide pollution gets in the cold winter months in London. And this is another thing; sometimes people forget this. There’s this concept that when you emit pollution from vehicles into the air, it just sort of disperses. And there’s a lot of air so we don’t need to worry about it.
If you look at this picture you’ll see that there’s actually quite a sharp line and that’s because in the winter the air’s quite cold, it’s quite stable. So effectively, on a cold day in London, you have an invisible ceiling on the atmosphere at about 300m. And now pause and imagine that all of the fumes from all of the vehicles in London are filling up an area of air that has an effective ceiling. It’s not dissipating out. Later in the day it begins to as the atmosphere warms up, but that’s why in the morning the air pollution gets particularly bad, more so than later in the day. So you can see it. And if you have a number from an NO2 diffusion tube here, they would be black; it would be in that black sort of range.
And then I pose some questions. And these are the sort of questions which are often raised when people say air pollution’s quite bad and people know it is, but you know, you can derail people’s thought processes.
The first one is: all right, we’ve got air pollution, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. And they’ll always take you back on some historical journey back to the nineteen-fifties, and they’ll show you this picture – a very famous picture – of the 1952 smog. And clearly during the smog, things were pretty bad. The one that occurred in December 1952 killed four and a half thousand people within five days, so clearly something had to be done.
An interesting parallel though – I think this is really important – when they discovered the smog (and this all came from coal burning) was killing people in 1952, they did not jump up in Government and say ‘we must do something to save the public’s health.’ They said ‘we can’t do anything because we’re in a period of economic crisis and it will be destructive to industry and the recovery of the country after the war.’
The reason we have a Clean Air Act and this was dealt with, is not because the Government wanted to do it; it was introduced under the radar by way of a Member’s Bill. So even back then, when you had an event that was killing four and a half thousand people, the Government always said ‘we can’t do anything because it would affect the economic development of the country.’
Sound familiar? It is a little bit familiar to the situation today.
But there are lessons we can learn.
So if you look back to 1952 you simply ask the question ‘Who died, during that week?’ And what this is looking at is a few areas within Inner London, and it’s looking at the increased ratio of people dying, stratified by age.
And this is really, really important.
Because when you hear about the London smog and how bad it used to be, you’re always told that it was the very old, ill, infirm people who died. And that’s certainly true, if you’re willing to accept that ‘old’ is over the age of 45 – because if you look here you can see a two-fold, three-fold, doubling of death rates within those age groups. And here’s the thing you’re never told: it’s the other side. The death rate also doubles in children under one year old. So the sensitive populations, the populations who were suffering the most during this air pollution episode, were the elderly, those entering their retirement age, and the young.
And you know what? That doesn’t change.
So if we’re having an air pollution debate, we should be considering those members of our population who are the most vulnerable. And that does include our children, as I shall point out in the next slide.
Things have changed. So as the smogs of the nineteen-fifties were caused by coal burning – we don’t really have coal burning in London any more. I mean there are some people who burn bio-mass, […] which they shouldn’t really do, but now much of our pollution comes from traffic. And this is again an point where people get a bit confused, because what are we really talking about?
Because there are lots of different types of pollution. We have particles – particulate matter, small particles emitted into the air, which are intangible, you won’t see them. If you talk about something having particulate matter 10 microns, that’s about the size of e. coli. If you’re near a road, particles which come out of an exhaust pipe are about 100 nanometres; that’s the size of the influenza virus. So you’ve moved from a visible smoke to an invisible killer. It’s still there, it’s just changed its nature.
So then we have all these other things: we have carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide – which we’re spending most of our time talking about today – we have black carbon, then we have a whole host of other things that are in this toxic brew. We have polyaromatic hydrocarbons, we have VOCs, we have metals, in fact diesel exhaust contains one of the most carcinogenic compounds that has ever been identified. So it is quite a complicated mix.
So we have all of these things we have to consider, and then you have to ask: where they come from? Because the air out there’s a mixture of different sources: you have diesel vehicles, gasoline vehicles. Even if you got rid of all of the exhaust emissions we’d still have pollution come from brake wear, because when you brake, big plumes of copper are released into the atmosphere. You also have resuspension of lying road dust. So it’s a complicated picture, and then there are other things.
So where does it come from? Well in London, you could really take a lot of that information and condense it down and say ‘there are lots of things here’, but there is a common theme, and it’s largely traffic-derived. In London it’s the traffic-derived pollution we’re concerned about. And many of these things actually vary together, so that as NO2 goes up, you tend to see an increase in the particles in the air, you see an increase in the black carbon. It’s traffic, and particularly it’s diesel traffic, diesel vehicles and the preponderance and great density of diesel vehicles on the road.
This is the elephant in the room; it’s called exposure. Just because the air out there is polluted, doesn’t mean you’re all exposed to it to the same extent. How much do you actually breathe? Depends on how much you ventilate – if you’re running you’re going to breathe more than someone who’s walking quietly down the street.
But the reason I’ve highlighted exposure here is, let’s think of a group of individuals who spend more time outdoors than adults? Children. They have a greater exposure because they spend more time outdoors. They have higher ventilation rates – their breathing rate’s faster than an adult’s. So if they’re outside, they breathe more of the air than you do, and they have smaller lungs, which are developing. Which means that the amount of toxins entering their lungs is greater per unit area of lung. So a child outside, if it’s 70 micrograms per metre cubed, is getting a bigger dose of the toxin than an adult in the same environment. It’s one of the reasons why children are a sensitive sub-population.
How serious is it? Well, we’re kind of fortunate in a sense, that this has been reviewed by the government. This is a report published in 2010, by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution. This is the figure that the Government itself will quote to you about the magnitude of the air pollution problem. In fact this is the figure that they quoted in a very recent House of Lords debate, which was raised by Lord Lawson.
In 2008, the UK population lost 340,000 years of life, so think about everybody in this room losing an amount of their life in relation to the amount of the exposure. But you can think of it another way; if you take that 340,000 and you think about the most sensitive individuals, it means there are 29,000 premature deaths in the United Kingdom per year arising from particulate pollution. That is a huge number. It’s greater than the number of people dying from obesity-related illnesses, it’s greater than the number of people dying from alcohol-related illnesses. It’s only second to cigarette smoking within the United Kingdom as a cause of premature mortality.
So this is a public health disaster, which needs to be dealt with.
And it’s not just a disaster on a personal front; economically if you have a vista which takes in the future, and not just the next immediate four-year period of time, this is a huge burden on the health system. We’re meant to be protecting our investment in the health service by improving the public’s health – this has to be one of our major targets.
I’ve given you information about death because death statistics are very popular, but the problem when you look at death, is that’s just the tip of the iceberg of health effects. So if we have 29,000 premature deaths, that’s going to represent a massive increase in hospital admissions. There’ll be more people visiting doctors: asthmatics, people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, people with cardiac disease, having to see their doctors, having to attend the GPs’ surgeries. We’re going to have increased medication use; so we have cost to the health service all the way down here. And then right at the bottom, in this purple segment, is what’s happening to everyone in the entire country, just from being outside near a road on a polluted day.
Now one of the things I do, is I take happy Scandinavian medical students, from a place called Umea in the far north of Sweden, and I put them inside chambers and I expose them to diesel exhaust at the concentration of diesel exhaust that they would experience if they were in London. I can’t do that study in London, because by the time you’d arrived at my laboratory for me to expose you to diesel, you’d have had more diesel than I’m about to give you as your challenge. If I look at their lungs, their lungs are inflamed. Their lungs react immediately – you can see that it has a physical effect on their airways.
Another thing that I should make a point of – because we often get completely focussed on roads – and a lot of people in the rest of the world don’t understand that because most people in most cities in the world don’t live slap-bang next to roads. We do, because of the nature of London. I do a lot of work in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, and this just illustrates the number of postcodes within 100m of a major road. And that becomes important in the next slide.
This I think, is the most important figure. If you can take this away with you, this would be the most important thing. I’ve been studying children’s respiratory health in Tower Hamlets and Hackney for the last five years. This year’s going to be the last year we’re doing our study. Each of those dots is an eight to nine year-old child. If you’re looking at this map, and it’s yellow – and this is a map from 2009 – that means that that child is living in an area with an annual level of nitrogen dioxide over 40 micrograms per metre cubed.
That means it’s not a hotspot: it’s not that one tube on that one corner, it’s almost the entirety of Hackney, and over 90% of the area of Tower Hamlets.
In this slide, there’s only one child who lived in an area where the air quality of NO2 was legal, and he was over here. So let’s put a number on that: I did this off the top of my head, and I think I can do it again. Tower Hamlets and Hackney have a combined population of about half a million. If I was to assume, conservatively, that 75% of people in those boroughs lived in a high pollution area, it would mean that about 375,000 people in those two boroughs live in an area of illegal air quality – in that brown cloud. And that is just an unacceptable reality at the present moment in time.
Don’t think about abstract numbers; think about the people. It’s about the people who live in these areas, and people forget that.
I just want to say it’s not a new problem. If you think ‘oh, he’s gone on about diesel exhaust, and we’ve been told diesels are good’. We’ve known diesel is bad since 1956. The first reports were published in the BMJ saying diesel was bad for health a long, long time ago. It’s not a new story, it’s been around for a very long time. And in my area, we are completely surprised that people endlessly say ‘well, we didn’t know’ because we’ve been telling you for years.
And then finally: you don’t have to take my word for it. This is just one report, but it’s a very important report.
The HEI is a US-funded institution, half funded by the government, half funded by industry. It’s meant to give completely independent, legally sound summaries of air pollution and health advice. And they published this report, again in 2010, to review the evidence. And I’ll just give you this final point, because this is something you can wave in front of people, and you can say ‘it’s not just a few scientists who have a vested interest in their next research grant.’ This has been thoroughly reviewed.
There is no doubt that being exposed to high levels of air pollution causes premature mortality. This is one of the most robust, repeatable pieces of scientific evidence there has been in the last 25 years. There’s no doubt that if children have asthma, it makes their asthma worse. No doubt; and we’re allowing our children to grow up in a city with unacceptably high air pollution. And also, and increasingly, I now believe that there’s no doubt that children who grow up in polluted areas have stunted lung development. Their lungs don’t develop properly. We’re seeing that in our children in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Their lungs at the age of nine were already smaller than they ought to be. And that’s a burden that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“No to Silvertown Tunnel” would like to thank Dr. Ian Mudway for taking the time to come to Greenwich and discuss issues of air quality with us.
Subsequent posts will feature the remainder of the meeting and presentations from Simon Birkett, John Elliot, Sian Berry and Andrew Wood, along with the public Q&A session.