Camden Council sets target to meet WHO standard for air quality

Exhaust from car fumes

Exhaust from car fumes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Camden councillors pointed the finger at school traffic during a council meeting on Monday night as they became the first local authority in the country to adopt strict World Health Organisation (WHO) targets for air pollution.

The motion followed a performance on air pollution by Camden Peoples’ Theatre, and a debate on air quality by councillors.

Introducing the motion, Highgate councillor Oliver Lewis talked about the experience of walking his daughter to school in the area, and the pollution coming from congested cars nearby.

“It is around our schools across the borough of Camden. This is about the air they breath every day, and in their classrooms which lack air quality.”

The motion said that Camden, as well as the majority of London, breaches European Union standards for nitrogen oxide (NO2).

While the council meets the levels of fine dust and particles (PM10), there is no safe level for them and they can damage children’s hearts and lungs.

School traffic came under fire during the debate as councillors raised their concerns about parents who drive their children to school, including those who live outside the borough.

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Cantelowes councillor Angela Mason, the cabinet member whose remit covers schools, revealed that a council study from last year found that pollution levels were bad in areas with independent schools.

Frognal and Fitzjohn’s ward has a number of the schools, and is particularly bad for pollution.

The meeting also heard more than 40 Camden schools have signed up to the School Travel Plan accreditation system (STARS), designed to cut down on car usage.

Cllr Mason said: “We have written to all schools asking them to sign up to STARS. We are encouraging them to talk to parents to reduce the number of them coming by car.”

The council will now aim to meet air pollution targets set by the WHO by 2030, and also lobby the government to introduce a new National Clean Air Act.

Green Party councillor Sian Berry welcomed the move, but was concerned that the target of 2030 meant the responsibility could be passed onto successive councils without them taking action.

“I worry it will be the council after this, or the council after that. It will be the third council after this one who are held accountable for this.”

She also said that the previous target to bring it within European Union levels by 2010 had failed.

The debate was part of a new format of council meetings being trialled by the council. Each meeting now an over-arching theme and discussion.

Before the meeting, in a council chamber which is no stranger to theatrics, Camden People’s Theatre performed “Fog Everywhere” on air pollution, featuring students from Westminster Kingsway College.

They also heard from members of residents associations and environmental groups about their thoughts on the area’s air pollution, and ideas for the future.