Wednesday, 16 April 2014

An email exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council over the toxic levels of air pollution that plague the borough

I've left this blog fallow for a few months but hope to write a few posts in the coming weeks. To kick it off I'd like to post online an email exchange I've been having with my local council, prompted by The Guardian's report that Kensington and Chelsea has the most polluted air in the UK. It's a bit fiery but I believe that a health risk that's on par with that posed by second-hand smoking merits a strong treatment. I hope reading this might inspire readers to pursue their own line of inquiries with their own local councils if they are similarly petrol-headed like RBKC!

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Dear Cllr Coleridge,

Have you read this: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/10/kesington-chelsea-most-polluted-air-uk-public-health-england-report ?

May I ask what new policies you intend to pursue in order to address the fact that "Traffic levels give [RBKC] the worst air, finds first study to measure pollution by borough"?

Clearly the policies you have pursued for the last 4 years have been actively damaging to the health of the RBKC population, including the health of my elderly parents who live in the borough. A clear and substantial change in policy is needed if you actually intend to address this issue.

I trust the Ladbroke Association and the Norland Conservation Society will also want to see action on this issue which is crucial to the health and well-being of their members.

Thank you very much,

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Dear Mr Johnston

Thank you for your e-mail of 11th April 2014.  The statistics that you refer to in the Guardian article have been published for the first time at a borough level. I have therfore listed below for you a number of initiatives that we are pushing that will help to improve the bquality of local air. Please do let me know if you would like more detail about any of them.

* We can't actually tell from the study published in the  Guardian whether our air quality is getting better or worse as this is the first time that statistics have been published at borough level. The press release on which the Guardian article is based actually says "Air quality has improved considerably in the UK in recent decades due to new cleaner technology and tighter environmental legislation, which have reduced emissions from industry."
* Regardless of this improvement, air pollution continutes to be a key issue tackled by the council, and we are currently working with our colleagues in Environmental Health to review and update our Air Quality Action Plan. A new version of the plan will be ready by the end of the year.

* The biggest sources of pollution from road traffic are the TfL roads such as the A4. We are currently working with TfL on implementing a scheme for "greening" a section of Cromwell Road which will reduce both noise and air pollution.
* We are working with TfL and other Central London boroughs to develop a Central London Grid of "Quietways" which will be suitable for less experienced cyclists.
* We are investigating options for improving access to Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure in residential areas.
*We are continuing our programme of opening up one-way streets to two-way cycling.
* We have been working with TfL to introduce cleaner buses in the borough and several routes are now operated by the New Bus for London, which uses hybrid diesel and electric power and therefore has lower emissions than conventional diesel buses.
* The Mayor of London's cycle hire scheme was extended furtheer into RBKC at the end of 2013, and there will be a further extension in 2014-15 in south Kensington and Notting Hill Gate.
*We plan to improve the cycle route under Westway, linking Latimer Road with Freston Road.
* We are continuing to promote cycling to our residents and businesses theough our "Bikeminded" brand. This will include campaigns targeted at people most likely to try cycling and a programme of events to promote the benefits of cycling.
* We are extending our programme of cycle training for both adults and children, and providing more residential and workplace cycle parking.
* We are increasing the proportion of children walking to school and staff walking to work through school and workplace travel plans.
* We are extending the Legible London wayfinding scheme, which encourages walking in the borough by making it easier for visitors to find their way around.
* We also promote "Walkit", the urban route finding website, via our transport web pages:http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/environmentandtransport/transportandstreets/cyclingandwalking/walking.aspx
Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further, or would like any more information.

With kind regards

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Dear Cllr Coleridge,

With respect, all of the measures you outline below have been a complete and utter failure. We live in the most polluted borough in the UK; The most polluted streets in Great Britain are the ones we have the pleasure of walking every day. 

Clearly the measures you have been pursuing thus far have, therefore, absolutely and conclusively failed for this to be the case.

In my humble opinion, you need to pursue some new policies rather than the old swadge of 'cycle training' and 'promoting electric vehicles' which have completely failed. I've taken the liberty of putting forward a number of solutions that would have an immediate and concrete improvement to the air quality that we all breath:

1. Converting traffic lanes to cycle-only lanes. This could be done on roads such as Holland Park Avenue, Cromwell Road, and Ken High St. It would have the twin effect of seriously increasingly cycling levels while dramatically reducing motor traffic flow and hence air pollution from motor traffic. It would also shield pedestrians on the pavement from the toxic fumes emit by motor vehicles because there would be a cycle lane in between.
2. Immediate 20 MPH limit for the borough. This would reduce air pollution because less fuel would be burnt owing to: a) lower average speeds, b) less unnecessary accelerating and breaking, c) reduced motor traffic flow
3. Restricting car parking in the borough. A no-brainer!
4. Implementing various 'green taxes' on high polluting vehicles such as motorbikes, chelsea tractors and taxis.
5. Building more zebra crossings and increasing pedestrian crossing light-phases to reduce motor traffic capacity in the borough.

May I ask if the council are interested in pursuing any of these?

Please can we have no more policies of failure. Think about your parents. Think about your children. The council's relentlessly pro-motor traffic policies are poisoning them everyday.


Very best,

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Dear Mr Johnston

I would like to point out that the average resident in RBKC lives considerably longer than the average in the UK. The whole borough is not polluted, it is polluted around certain heavily used road arteries, our side streets are not the most polluted in the UK and visitors and residents are able to walk our streets without concern.

You ask me to think of my parents, they live in Chelsea, are in their early eighties, healthy (touch wood) and going strong, my two sons live in Chelsea and are extremely fit and healthy, and my wife goes jogging three times a week.

We penalise large engine owners with a sliding scale residents parking, and the vehicle excise licence for large engines is extremely expensive. We have introduced permit free new developments which has reduced the number of new cars on our streets, in fact the number of parking permits has dropped by nearly 4000 over recent years.

We also have a great many residents who either need a car or wish to have a car and we respect this choice.     

best wishes

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Dear Cllr Coleridge,

Thank you for your response.

I am afraid that it is completely incorrect - some might say to the point of lying - to claim that 'visitors and residents are able to walk RBKC streets without concern', when over 1 in 12 of all deaths in the RBKC borough are attributable to tiny particles of soot largely emitted by diesel engines (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/10/kesington-chelsea-most-polluted-air-uk-public-health-england-report). The air pollution that covers our borough is not limited to road arteries, as you claim (!), but spreads over the entire area despite being even worse next to main roads. That's why the recent smog was as visible in Hyde Park as on Ken High St.

I am glad that your family are currently so healthy, however, that does not prove that our borough has clean air! The fact your wife goes jogging three times a week does not stop her being at a greater risk of developing heart or lung disease, cancer, or asthma because of the air pollution in the borough in which she lives. On the contrary, the negative health effects of RBKC's toxic air pollution are even worse for her because she is suffering more acute and intense exposure to our toxic air pollution every time she goes jogging.

For the sake of your wife, therefore, for the sake of the rest of your family, and for the sake of the 1 in 12 residents of this borough that, because of RBKC's high level of motor traffic, die unnecessarily early and of diseases that they wouldn't have developed if they lived somewhere else in London, I am compelled to ask you again if this new research is prompting the Council to look at any new measures to tackle air pollution and whether they would consider any of the measures I outlined in my last email (which I've pasted again at the bottom of this email for your convenience)?

With the local elections coming up shortly I would be very grateful to know the Council's position on taking new measures to tackle this issue which possess to such a insidious and constant health risk to all those that live, work or study in RBKC.

Very best,

1. Converting traffic lanes to cycle-only lanes. This could be done on roads such as Holland Park Avenue, Cromwell Road, and Ken High St. It would have the twin effect of seriously increasingly cycling levels while dramatically reducing motor traffic flow and hence air pollution from motor traffic. It would also shield pedestrians on the pavement from the toxic fumes emit by motor vehicles because there would be a cycle lane in between.
2. Immediate 20 MPH limit for the borough. This would reduce air pollution because less fuel would be burnt owing to: a) lower average speeds, b) less unnecessary accelerating and breaking, c) reduced motor traffic flow
3. Restricting car parking in the borough. A no-brainer!
4. Implementing various 'green taxes' on high polluting vehicles such as motorbikes, chelsea tractors and taxis.
5. Building more zebra crossings and increasing pedestrian crossing light-phases to reduce motor traffic capacity in the borough.

The air pollution in Hyde Park earlier this month. Disgusting and very harmful to our health.
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Dear Mr Johnston

Please try to keep the correspondence polite, I do not lie.

I assume you are familiar with the RBKC website at www.rbkc.gov.uk

If you look at the Environment and Transport section , and then look under "Air Quality" you will find a useful tool that tells you each day precisely what the level of pollutants are  in our borough, broken down if you request it by many different measurements of different particulants.

You will see that every area of the borough is today experiencing "low" levels of pollution.

I would ask you to have a good look around this part of our website as it is full of useful data and live measurements. I look at it quite frequently, which is why i have more faith in our air quality than for example the Guardian that I would not rely on for long term data or accuracy.

best wishes

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Dear Cllr Coleridge,

I'm afraid to say that you are sounding more like O'Brien from Orwell's 1984 than a local councillor concerned with improving the air quality, and therefore health and well-being, of the residents who voted for him. I'm very sorry if that sounds impolite, but the information which I have supplied you with (i.e. that over 1 in 12 of all deaths in the RBKC borough are attributable to tiny particles of soot largely emitted by diesel engines) is not data measured by The Guardian, but in fact collected and published by Public Health England, an agency of the Department of Health! You can see their entire document here: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317141074607. All The Guardian have done is reported the findings of this governmental body that estimated the long term exposure to air pollution on a borough-by-borough level!

This not spurious opinion but accurate, scientific research which has shown RBKC to be the most polluted borough in UK and hence subject to a significant and unnecessary 'mortality burden'. If, bearing this fact in mind, RBKC Council decides that the air pollution here is 'low', what call you 'high'?!

So, I am forced to ask for a third time (!): given the recently published findings of Public Health England that show that far from having 'low' levels of air pollution - as the RBKC Council mistakenly claims on its website (!) - Kensington and Chelsea actually has the highest level of air pollution of any borough in the UK, are the Council considering any new measures to counteract this gigantic public health risk to the population borough? Would any of the measures I've already outlined in my two previous emails appeal to the Council?

Would you also please consider improving the accuracy of the "Air Quality" section of your website in line with the data that Public Health England is able to provide on RBKC's appalling air pollution?


Many thanks,