Work to improve City of London air quality is never done

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Work to improve City of London air quality is never done
credit Unsplash

70 years ago this week, five days of toxic air brought London to a standstill.

Flights were grounded, trains were cancelled, and visibility was so poor that buses were guided through the streets with torches.

The Great Smog – as it became known – descended on the capital, as smoke and noxious fumes from coal fires, vehicles, and factories mixed with fog and mist. Initial estimates suggested that about 4,000 people died in the immediate aftermath, but another 8,000 are understood to have died over the course of the following year.

The smog was an unforgettable signal that poor air quality is deadly. But this tragic event inspired radical action which has led to a huge improvement.
In 1954, the City Corporation became the first governing authority to become a Smokeless Zone, banning the production of smoke anywhere in the City.

The Clean Air Act followed two years later, enabling UK local authorities to do the same. Over the last 70 years, we have taken bold and practical action to improve air quality in the Square Mile and right across London. And under my leadership I can guarantee readers that combatting air pollution will remain right at the top of our agenda. In fact, City residents are at the forefront of this fightback.

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Data collected by people living in the Square Mile this year showed a 40 percent improvement in air quality at two housing estates. Our Science in the City air quality monitoring project, run by Mapping for Change and commissioned by the City Corporation, took place at the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates.

The scheme compared 2021 data on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) against figures collected by residents on the same sites in 2013 to see if local air quality had improved.

I’d like to thank our residents for the positive role they play in supporting our clean-air policies. Their views have helped us bring in a Low Emission Neighbourhood programme, with its new electric vehicle charging points, green infrastructure, cargo bikes, and a zero-emission street pilot.

And from there, we have gone on to ban new diesel vehicles from our fleet, where there is a clean market alternative, and lead a London-wide crackdown on drivers who leave their engines idling when parked.

We developed a CityAir app which gives over 35,000 Londoners low pollution travel routes with advice and alerts when air pollution is high. And our emissions-based charges for on-street parking targets high polluting transport with higher tariffs, while rewarding drivers of low emission vehicles with lesser charges.

We know young people are particularly affected by poor air quality, so we developed targeted Air Quality Action Plans for every school and nursery in the Square Mile.

This just shows what can be achieved when residents and the City Corporation work closely together.

Nobody should have to breathe toxic air, and we will continue to collaborate with City residents and businesses to help eradicate it.

We are not there yet, but we are certainly on the right track.

We have already achieved our aim for over 90 percent of the Square Mile to meet targets for nitrogen dioxide ahead of schedule. And we will continue taking strong action to improve air quality so that everyone is protected.

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