Action on air pollution

Council praised after announcing 38-point plan to improve people’s health, reports James Cracknell

Car exhaust

The Waltham Forest Air Quality Plan includes an ‘anti-idling’ campaign (credit Matthew Paul Argall, via Wikimedia Commons)

Air quality campaigners have welcomed moves by Waltham Forest Council to tackle air pollution in the borough through a new 38-point action plan.

The Waltham Forest Air Quality Plan announced by the council last month includes measures such as discounted parking for low-emission vehicles, 20mph zones, installing electric charging points, an anti-idling campaign, and ‘pedestrian days’ when traffic is banned on particular streets. The council has also commissioned experts from King’s College London to carry out air quality monitoring.

Last year a new group called Waltham Forest Cares for Clean Air organised the first ‘Waltham Forest Clean Air Day‘ in which more than 5,000 children walked, scooted, or cycled to school. Among the parents involved was Claire Ford from Chingford. She said: “I’m really pleased to see an air quality action plan that would work with schools on a wide range of projects and look at the impact of the school run and car idling.

“I would like to see more about looking after elderly residents and those with particular health conditions, considering they are the ones that suffer the most from the effects of air pollution.

“In South Chingford a local group specifically asked for air quality monitoring and it’s brilliant the council have listened and put monitoring tubes up.”

Another air quality campaigner, Susan Bailey, said: “Many people don’t realise that each time they take a car journey they are exposing themselves to the highest levels of pollution. You are literally sitting on the major source of air pollution each time you drive.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to reduce the amount of journeys taken in cars, but the council’s proposal looks to offer incentives for the use of low-emission vehicles, such as free parking and reduced parking permits. They are also looking at reducing emissions of the council’s own fleet vehicles – in effect to ‘practice what they preach’.

“The proposal of most interest to me is the proposal for ‘school streets’, restricting cars on some roads close to schools at peak times. This would mean a huge improvement in both street safety and air pollution.”

The council’s cabinet member for the environment, Councillor Clyde Loakes, recently attended an anti-idling day outside Edinburgh Primary School in Walthamstow. He said: “It is not just about enforcement. We have been improving pavement and road designs for pedestrians and cyclists so they have extra space – our priority is making sustainable transport as safe as possible for all to enjoy.

“We are also planting an extra 1,200 trees in the borough, so by the end of March we will have more than 50,000 trees helping to improve our air quality – the most in the borough’s history.”

King’s College London will be working with the council to analyse the health benefits of changes made to streets, and where improved pedestrian and cycle facilities and infrastructure has been constructed or is proposed.

Dr Sean Beevers, from the university’s environmental research group, said: “We are looking forward to working with Waltham Forest to assess the potential health benefits of increased walking and cycling in the borough, alongside initiatives to improve air quality for residents.”

In London, 9,400 people die from illnesses related to air quality every year. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced in January that the capital’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, where the most polluting vehicles are taxed £12.50, will be expanded into Waltham Forest, up to the North Circular, by 2021.

For more information about the Waltham Forest Air Quality Action Plan: