People across south-east London are living with air pollution levels of as much as two-and-a-half times over European legal limits – and this is set to get worse if plans for two huge construction projects get the go-ahead.
Local campaigners joined forces to monitor nitrogen dioxide levels at 150 sites across south-east and east London during January, in what’s believed to be the largest “citizen science” air pollution study ever seen in the capital.
The readings, which were taken at sites across five London boroughs, show horrifying pollution levels right where people live, work, shop, and go to school.
Prolonged exposure to air pollution causes respiratory problems and can lead to cancer. Pollution from motor vehicles can also affect the development of children’s lungs.
Yet plans to build the Silvertown road tunnel between Greenwich and the Royal Docks, piling more pressure onto the local road network as more road capacity encourages more traffic, will make pollution worse in the long term.
Meanwhile, Thames Water’s proposal to build a 17m wide shaft on Deptford Church Street as part of its “super sewer” plans involve the partial closure of a major road artery for over a year, causing chaos on all major roads in the area.
- A nitrogen dioxide level of 110 microgrammes per cubic metre was recorded at the New Cross one-way system – well over two and a half times the EU legal limit of 40µg/m³, and blighting homes, student halls and Goldsmiths College. In total, five sites on the A2 from Deptford to New Cross recorded levels over double the EU limit.
- Lee High Road, in Lewisham town centre, recorded a score of 109 µg/m³. The road network here will come under extra pressure if the Silvertown Tunnel is built.
- Children walking to school in Charlton face a level of 104 µg/m³ at the Bramshot Avenue underpass, underneath the congested A102, which is expected to cope with extra traffic from the Silvertown Tunnel, which Boris Johnson has said will double the capacity of traffic to cross the river.
- Levels of twice the EU limit on Millennium Way, Greenwich Peninsula, where Greenwich Council plans to build a new primary school. Levels well above the the EU limit were also recorded outside the Royal Greenwich University Technical College, Windrush and Fossdene primary schools in Charlton, as well as Deptford Park primary school and Deptford Green and Addey & Stanhope secondary schools.
- Our tube on the Catford one-way system recorded a figure of 88 µg/m³ – more than twice the EU limit.
- Greenwich’s historic town centre, a world heritage site, is blighted by air pollution at almost twice the EU limit.
The study was carried out between 6 January and 7 February 2014. If it hadn’t been the wettest January since records began, it’s likely the results would have been far worse.
Recent media coverage of the Saharan dust cloud over London brought air pollution issues into the spotlight – but the dust cloud only made the capital’s poor air quality more visible.
The campaigners now plan to combine their figures with local authority data to get a full picture of air pollution across the area.
The groups behind the study were No To Silvertown Tunnel and Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart, with backing from Network For Clean Air, which helps citizens carry out pollution studies in their communities.
No To Silvertown Tunnel conducted tests across the borough of Greenwich, as well as locations in Lewisham, Catford, Welling, Bexleyheath, and in parts of Newham borough. Many of these locations will see increased traffic levels if the Silvertown Tunnel gets the go-ahead, putting increased pressure on the A2/A102 and surrounding main roads. It follows an earlier No To Silvertown Tunnel study carried out in summer 2013.
Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart tested sites in Deptford, New Cross, Rotherhithe and Greenwich. Thames Water’s plans include a big rise in HGV movements from Deptford Church Street to the A2, on top of massively increased HGV traffic from other new developments such as Convoys Wharf, recently approved by Boris Johnson, where 3,500 luxury flats will be built.
Darryl Chamberlain from No To Silvertown Tunnel says:
“Local politicians are backing dangerous plans for the Silvertown Tunnel rather than taking a stand against the lethal air pollution that blights our communities, and the traffic that causes it. A new tunnel will only bring extra traffic – it won’t bring relief from congestion or pollution.
“Generations of local people have paid the price for their lack of investment in new public transport, walking and cycling facilities, while politicians prioritise the profits of property developers over people.
“It’s time we took a stand and worked together to reduce the traffic on our roads, instead of encouraging more vehicles from Kent and Essex to clog up our roads and pollute our neighbourhoods. Greenwich Council, Newham Council and the Mayor of London must rethink their support for the Silvertown Tunnel before it’s too late.”
Sue Lawes from Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart says:
“The Thames Water plan includes 17,400 HGV movements over three years from Deptford Church Street to the A2. Reducing Church Street to two lanes will result in slower and potentially stationary traffic, causing rat running on local roads such as Creekside and Deptford High Street, where levels are already above EU limits.
“At the same time 90 HGVs a day will be coming from a new development on Creekside, whilst the 10-year construction at Convoys will introduce unimaginable numbers of HGVs onto Creek Road, Deptford Church Street and the A2.
“Thames Water originally chose a site by the river where pollution levels are low and which didn’t involve any road closures, but changed their minds because it was less expensive to dump on Deptford Church Street.”
Andrew Wood of Network for Clean Air says:
“These results bear out what we know: the failure of Boris Johnson to address air pollution is damaging health and London’s economic development.
“The Mayor of London needs to immediately appoint a Commissioner for Air Quality with a task force to knock heads together; bring forward the start date of the proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone, and extend it to at least all the inner London boroughs – including Greenwich and Lewisham – which have harmful and unlawful levels of air pollution.”
With many thanks to our army of volunteers including Jill Austen, Anthony Austin, Jenny Bates, Adam Bienkov, Ian Blore, Darryl Chamberlain, Stewart Christie, Nikki Coates, Richard Dinkeldein, Sally Edwards, Barbara Gill, Terry Grant, Clare Griffiths, Clay Harris, Alan Haughton, Annie Keys, Jenny O’Keefe, Mike O’Keefe, Clem Riches, Francis Sedgemore, Dave Sharman, Alan Shaw, Chris Smith, Joe Swift and Chris Taylor. Apologies if we’ve missed anybody.
We’d also like to acknowledge the contribution of our corporate sponsor, independent DevOps consultancy Scale Factory, which sponsored tubes in the Catford and Woolwich areas. We’d also like thank our other donors: Paul Megson, Stuart Mayell, Deborah Corcoran and Anthony Austin.
Thanks also to the Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart volunteers, including Nick Williams, Sue Lawes, Emma Redstone, Harry Richardson, Helena Russell, Keith Tillman, Joe Dromey, Brenda Dacres and Peter Hill.