Camden calls on Government to adopt World Health Organization targets for air quality in the delayed Environment Bill

Ahead of National Clean Air Day 2020 on Thursday 8 October, Camden Council has written to Government calling on them to enshrine World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air quality within the delayed Environment Bill.

Government has consistently refused to adopt WHO limits for air quality in the Environment Bill, despite overwhelming evidence of the public health benefits this would bring. The delays to the Environment Bill announced last week also run the risk of leaving the UK without any legal limits for air pollution when the country eventually leaves the European Union in December.

Air pollution has a significant impact on public health, accounting for over 9,400 premature deaths in London each year and affecting the health and quality of life of many more with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Covid has laid bare the importance of respiratory health - adopting WHO guidelines would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to policy that supports both environmental and public health improvement.

Councillor Adam Harrison, Cabinet member for a Sustainable Camden
Clean Air Day shines a spotlight on air pollution and provides an opportunity for Camden to highlight the work we are delivering locally to reduce it.

“But the stark reality is that the Government has repeatedly failed to accept the guidance of the World Health Organization on this critical public health issue. At a time when respiratory health is at the forefront of our everyday lives, it is hard to fathom why Government has thus far resisted calls to enshrine WHO limit values in the delayed Environment Bill.

“I still believe it is not too late, and this week I have written to the Secretary of State calling again for Government to join Camden in committing to WHO guidelines (letter attached to the right of this page).

“Clean air is one of our residents’ top priorities. In Camden, we want to make sure that no one should experience poor health as a result of the air they breathe – that’s why we were the first London borough to commit to World Health Organization guidelines for air quality by 2030.”
Councillor Adam Harrison, Cabinet member for a Sustainable Camden

Taking action to improve air quality in Camden

Given the unprecedented nature of the ongoing pandemic much progress has recently been achieved through the council’s Safer Travel programme.

During the COVID emergency, the council has continued to see a rise in walking and cycling but also in car use as public transport capacity has shrunk due to physical distancing requirements.

This programme is introducing a broad range of improvements across the borough to help residents move around their communities in a safer way.

Councillor Harrison commented:

“Our Safer Travel programme aims to help residents get about while public transport capacity is restricted – and to avert a ‘car-based recovery’ that includes increased pollution and carbon emissions, as well as road danger.

“We know walking and cycling are best for one’s health and for the environment. This was true pre-COVID and is even more pressing now with the reported links between the pandemic, clean air and respiratory health.

“As well as creating extra space on high streets such as Kilburn High Road and Hampstead High Street, we have removed rat-runs, often by just installing a simple bollard. As well as these measures, we have also brought forward pop-up cycle lanes.

“Many schools suffer with parking, congestion, road danger and air quality issues immediately outside their gates, so encouraging walking and cycling to school can also reduce the impact of the early-morning commute.

“To this end a new Healthy Schools Zone, covering five schools off Fitzjohn’s Avenue will shortly be fully operational, joining three new ‘School Streets’ restricting car use for drop-off and pick-up will in Fortune Green, Primrose Hill, and Kentish Town.”

This autumn the council will also be establishing a series of Safe and Healthy Streets, low-traffic neighbourhood schemes across multiple areas in the Borough, including the Arlington Road area and in Kentish Town.

These will help to reduce air pollution in primarily residential areas whilst making streets safer for social distancing and active travel. The air pollution impacts elsewhere will be closely monitored to understand the wider effect of these schemes.