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Stop pollution! Hampstead parents launch green school runs plan to clean up air in NW3

PUBLISHED: 07:30 31 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:35 31 January 2019

School run campaigners surrounded by traffic in NW3. Picture: Polly Hancock

School run campaigners surrounded by traffic in NW3. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Ever tried travelling up Fitzjohn's Avenue on a Monday morning?

A map of pollution outside of NW3 schools. The darker the colour, the more nitrogen dioxide was in the air. The worst levels were found outside of Hampstead Hill School. Picture: NW3 Green School Runs/Camden Air ActionA map of pollution outside of NW3 schools. The darker the colour, the more nitrogen dioxide was in the air. The worst levels were found outside of Hampstead Hill School. Picture: NW3 Green School Runs/Camden Air Action

It’s not for the faint-hearted.

With, at the last count, 12,000 children attending a school with an NW3 postcode, parents flock to the area every weekday.

Consequently, the main transport arteries turn into car parks and emissions continue to be pumped into the atmosphere.

When Camden Air Action measured the rate of pollution outside of local schools in 2017, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) reached as high as 57µg per cubic metre, while measurements outside eight schools surpassed the EU’s recommended limit of 40µg.

Members of the NW3 Green School Runs group, Alessandra Giuliani, Yoni Jacobs and Valeria Pensabene. Picture: Polly HancockMembers of the NW3 Green School Runs group, Alessandra Giuliani, Yoni Jacobs and Valeria Pensabene. Picture: Polly Hancock

A group of parents of children at private schools in Hampstead and the surrounding area are now taking it upon themselves to get to grips with the problem.

Valeria Pensabene has been instrumental in putting together the NW3 Green School Runs (NW3GSR) group.

She told the Ham&High it was about recognising that private school parents, who often live further away from the schools they send their kids to, need to take the lead.

She said: “We have founded this group in hope of coming up with very practical solutions to a problem we all agree exists.

“Essentially we want to bring people together.”

Valeria and fellow campaigner Francesca Agostini both live in Hampstead and send their children to local schools.

They think the time is right for taking a co-ordinated approach to tackling pollution.

Francesca said: “Everyone – all of the stakeholders – has been doing what they could so far. The council have tried, the private schools have been trying, the parents and teachers have tried.

The school run on Heath Street, Hampstead. Picture: Polly HancockThe school run on Heath Street, Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Our hope is to bring all of these people around the table.”

In terms of specific solutions to the problem, the first thing the Green School Runs team want to look at is reviving private buses between areas such as Finchley and Muswell Hill and Hampstead.

Worries over the effect of the school run on air quality in Hampstead are not new, and the idea of a bus fleet has even been tried before, too.

The Transport4Schools company started by another Hampstead parent ended up in liquidation in 2016, but Valeria said NW3GSR thinks technology has improved and the time’s right to give it another go.

“We’ve spoken to the woman behind Transport4Schools, and we’re going to learn from its successes and its mistakes.

“Things have moved on since 2009 – look at things like Uber, Deliveroo.”

Both women explained that for, their plan to work, as many parents and schools as possible would have to get behind it, and Valeria called on like-minded parents to show support.

“We want the council to see that there’s a serious group of people working to put time and talent into coming up with solutions.

“We are happy to keep collecting data on traffic congestion, air pollution, council-led solutions. However, we strongly believe too much debating can lead to inertia and that now is time for parent- and private-school-led action.”

Other options include encouraging private schools to take tougher action, and the council expanding the introduction of school streets, which limit traffic access.

One school already on board is UCS Hampstead, which has been encouraging car-sharing.

Headteacher at the pre-prep school, Dr Zoe Dunn, said: “We are really proud of our Silver STARS award in recognition of the work we are doing to support more sustainable travel to and from school in the local area.”

The foundation of this group comes as Camden Council’s 2018-2021 Clean Air Action Plan is out for consultation. In the draft plan, Camden says it will work with independent schools to minimise emissions resulting from vehicles travelling to the Fitzjohn’s area.

Adam Harrison, Camden’s environment chief, said: “We are open to speaking with any schools regarding their coach provision and support the campaign by parents.

“We encourage initiatives such as the electric school bus, which show the Camden community taking equal responsibility for air pollution.”

The town hall also hopes to improve electric vehicle infrastructure around the NW3 area and has begun holding events discouraging idling at local private schools.

For more information on NW3 Green School Runs or to get involved: contact nw3greenschoolruns@gmail.com, find their Facebook page or @NW3GSR on Twitter. Camden’s clean air consultation runs until February 15 at consultations.wearecamden.org/supporting-communities/clean-air-action-plan/

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