Vassal Ward councillor Paul Gadsby urges everyone in Brixton to take part in the council’s clean air consultation
Lambeth council has just launched a vital consultation on an issue that affects every single person living, working or passing through Brixton: how we clean up the poor air quality that is blighting South London.
This is a problem that most people remain oblivious to. If you were to stop random passers-by in Windrush Square or Brixton market, most would be unaware of just how bad the air is around them.
Brixton Road, which runs through the heart of my ward, Vassall, is one of the most polluted in South London because of the large number of TfL buses, taxis and heavy goods lorries running through the route every day.
In 2015 it breached the yearly limit for diesel fume pollution in four days: in other words the area used up 365 days’ worth of safe emissions in 96 hours.
Across London, more than 9,000 Londoners a year die from conditions related to poor air quality and a quarter of schools sit in areas that regularly have pollution levels well above recommended limits.
Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite, the Lambeth cabinet member for the environment, has rightly called this “an invisible killer” that disproportionately impacts on the old, the young and those in deprived communities.
I realise that, so far, this post has not had more sunshine in it, especially as the weight of evidence is appalling to look at. But there are signs that London is starting to get a grip on the problem, with a growing appetite for action in Lambeth in particular.
Off the back of the appalling statistics I mentioned earlier, local councillors in Brixton ran a successful campaign to get cleaner engines fitted on TfL buses travelling down Brixton Road which has resulted in a small improvement in the air quality in the immediate area.
The council has introduced measures to encourage drivers to turn off their engines when they are stationary. Community groups have been doing a great job of adding to the lobbying pressure. Special praise needs to be given to Lambeth for a Cool Planet, who have been organising events around Brixton and working with the council to get its policies right on the issue.
The new London mayor responded to this joint work by announcing a new low emission bus zone that will cover Brixton and Streatham, putting further limits on emissions.
Lambeth’s new air quality action plan is an attempt to draw all this activity together in one concrete plan that can be implemented between 2017 and 2022. Shaped with community groups, it has proposals that include a freight consolidation centre to slash the number of journeys made by the most polluting vehicles and changing planning guidance to reduce air pollution from construction.
It would be nonsense to say Lambeth can wave a magic wand and make this issue go away, especially as we need others – the London mayor, the government – to act.
But having an agreed approach means we can apply the pressure we need to, which with a receptive London mayor is already producing results.
So if you have never read or responded to a council consultation before, I would start with this one: it’s your chance to feed into how we get the clean air that Brixton needs.
You can contribute to the consultation here.