Top ten hotspots for pollution highlighted at Hampstead meeting as campaigners call for diesel ban

Air pollution public meeting at St Stephens
Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air London

Air pollution public meeting at St Stephens Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air London - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A citizen science project has confirmed what Camden residents and environmentalists have long suspected - that we are breathing in dangerous levels of toxins right across the borough, even at the leafy heart of Hampstead Heath.

Air pollution public meeting at St Stephens
Matthew Crampton with pollution map

Air pollution public meeting at St Stephens Matthew Crampton with pollution map - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The truth about toxicity was officially laid bare in St Stephen’s Hall on Tuesday, with a map showing that levels of the poisonous gas Nitrogen Dioxide (N02) are highest around several of the borough’s schools and tube stations.

Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum joined with Green Party campaigners to monitor NO2 levels at 75 locations across the borough - and every area was found to exceed the “safe” level, while most breached the legal limit.

The public meeting was chaired by environmental lawyer Pam Castle and heard from speakers including politicians, activists and a public health expert.

Professor Frank Kelly leads a research team at Kings College into the damage wreaked to public health by pollution in London, where it is estimated to kill 9,500 people annually - more than smoking.

A map showing the pollution hotspots across Hampstead

A map showing the pollution hotspots across Hampstead - Credit: Archant

Professor Kelly believes that “particulate matter” (known as PM2.5) is possibly even more dangerous than NO2, and that ozone (O3) is yet another dangerous toxin which the public know little about.

He said: “On those days when we see smog, people are suddenly very aware of the problem, but it is when you can’t see the pollution that you have the real problems.”

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Simon Burkett, founder of the project Clean Air in London, said it is time for the government to stop burying its head in the sand and to start tackling the pollution problem with tough new legislation.

He said: “There is only one way we can comply with guidelines, and that is to get rid of diesel vehicles. There should be a ban on all the most polluting vehicles.”

Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron, a former Haringey councillor, said the past eight years with Boris Johnson as Mayor had been “frustrating” in terms of air quality control.

Ms Gavron has five grandchildren who go to Camden secondary schools, and said: “The half hour walk to and from school stunts our children’s lungs...The greatest environmental challenge facing Londoners today is the toxic air.”

Ms Gavron said she believes the “power of collective action” is the only way to significantly alter government policy.

Dee Searl, co-chair of the Camden Green Party, who helped co-ordinate the study, said one of the difficulties in tackling pollution is the notion of “ownership” within society.

She said: “People want their own car, rather than just the use of one ...but unborn children will suffer from adverse effects if we do not do something about it.”

Also speaking was Simon Alcock, who works for non-profit legal charity Client Earth, which has taken the British government to court for its inaction on pollution compliance.

He said it was vital that pressure was maintained, and that Camden solicitors, Hodge, Jones and Allen, are prepared to work with individuals who might have cases under EU laws concerning the right to health and life.

Camden Council has just closed a public consultation on tackling the pollution problem in the borough, and will publish results later this year.

Campaigners are calling on whoever becomes Mayor of London this week to bigger, better clean air zones, and to work closely with Transport for London (TfL) to reduce toxic emissions.

But former Hampstead councillor, Linda Chung told the panel she thought it would be difficult to get TfL’s co-operation with initiatives to reduce pollution.

Ms Chung said: “All the politicians agree that Transport for London is faceless, nameless and totally unaccountable. How do we get to work with them and how does one work with the very strong motorists lobby. I do understand the appeal of cars, because it gives you tremendous freedom, and we all love them.

“But when we know the amount of air pollution we’ve got is poisoning all our children, shortening our lives and giving us health problems, we really must do something about it.”

The “safe” level for NO2 is below 20mg/m3 whilst the level at which pollution becomes illegal is 40mg/m3.

The worst 10 hotspots as found by the survey are:

Kentish Town station - 98

Junction of Highgate Hill and Dartmouth Park Road - 89

Highgate High Street by Highgate School - 80

Kentish Town Road -74

Fortess Road (by Tufnell Park station and Ackland Burley School) - 72

Outside Spaniards Inn - 72

Haverstock Hill (by Belsize Park Tube) - 71

Highgate Road - 72

Fitzjohn’s Avenue - 69

The cleanest air you can breath is in the middle of Hampstead Heath, where the level is 21 - still just above the safe limit.