Council reveals new air quality action plan

Reducing car use seen as key to reducing air pollution in the borough, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A car exhaust (credit Matt Boitor via Unsplash)
credit Matt Boitor via Unsplash

Enfield Council is aiming to slash harmful air pollutants by reducing car use and boosting walking and cycling.

The council’s new air quality action plan builds on measures already taken to encourage people to switch to more sustainable transport modes, with plans for a cycling network across the borough.

More ‘school streets’, which restrict access to roads near schools at pick-up and drop-off times; the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points; and further electrification of the council’s vehicle fleet are among the plan’s other proposals to reduce emissions from transport.

The action plan also aims to slash emissions from buildings and new developments by ensuring all major schemes include measures to control dust and emissions during construction and demolition.

Set to run until 2027, the action plan focuses on reducing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is produced by road traffic and other fossil fuel combustion processes, and particulate matter, which is made up of small particles that can penetrate the airways and lungs and sometimes enter the bloodstream or brain.

The document states that there is an “ever-growing evidence base for the connections between air pollution and heart and lung health and the link to premature mortality, with connections also being made to other conditions such as diabetes, dementia, mental health and birth outcomes, and most recently potential links to Covid 19”.

According to the plan, NO2 has exceeded objective levels along major roads and very busy local roads, such as Bullsmoor Lane. Levels of larger particulate matter, known as PM10, do not breach air quality objectives anywhere in the borough.

The plan was presented to a meeting of the council’s environment and climate action scrutiny panel on Tuesday.

During the meeting, panel member Joanne Laban said the council had not challenged the Mayor of London’s plan to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) to the northern boundary of the borough. She claimed it would have a negligible impact on air quality and cost £250million that would be better invested in other measures to cut pollution, such as zero-emission bus routes.

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Rick Jewell, cabinet member for environment, replied that there were statistics showing the Ulez expansion would have an impact on air pollution. He said that while the council had sent a letter to Sadiq Khan outlining its concerns over the scheme last year, the mayor had made his decision and the expansion “fits in with everything we are doing on our air quality and active travel”.

Cllr Laban asked if the council would now “reflect” on its low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), claiming they had pushed more cars on to “polluted” boundary roads on the edges of the schemes. Doug Wilkinson, the council’s director of environment, said the schemes had taken traffic out of residential areas, and their long-term goal was to reduce car use.

Officers said diffusion tubes to measure air quality were installed near the borough’s LTNs.

The panel also heard questions from members of the public. Ann Jones asked if the council could consider how best to monitor levels of smaller particulate matter known as PM2.5, pointing out that there is no PM2.5 monitoring station on its automatic monitoring network.

She said PM2.5 levels at two test sites in Enfield in December indicated “worrying trends”, with almost all readings above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Ned Johnson, the council’s principal health, safety and pollution officer, said PM2.5 was not regulated by councils and indicated the costs of installing a monitor would be large, although he would like to be able to do it. He said levels would need to be measured over a twelve-month period to determine if they were above or below the WHO objective.

Under further questioning from Aurora Yaacov, a member of Enfield Climate Action Forum, Ned said measures set out in the action plan to reduce PM10 would also reduce levels of PM2.5. He added that levels of PM10 had never been exceeded even in parts of the borough with the worst traffic.

The air quality action plan can be viewed here.

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