Citizen-funded campaign to flag up illegal levels of toxic air to London buyers and renters
Damian CarringtonLast modified on Wed 1 May 2019 09.49 BST
A citizen-funded advertising campaign against air pollution will target the property market with billboard slogans including “Location, location, lung disease” and “The neighbourhood’s gone to the docs”.
These will be accompanied by online ads and a website where homebuyers and renters in London will be able to look up levels of toxic air for the property they are considering. The campaign will launch in the capital in late May and there are plans to make it nationwide.
Most urban areas in the UK have illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, produced primarily by diesel vehicles. The pollutant results in asthma and stunted lungs in children and is linked to many impacts on health, from low birthweight in babies to about 9,000 premature deaths in London every year.
“Like crime rates, wifi speeds and schools, we are going to make air quality a major consideration in the housing market, give everyone an air pollution rating for their own front door, and then the tools to act,” said Humphrey Milles, the founder of the Central Office of Public Interest (COPI), the non-profit advertising group running the campaign.
Prof Frank Kelly of King’s College London, which is creating the air pollution maps, said: “Many people don’t learn about air pollution levels and the health consequences until after they have suffered its effects.
“With an air quality index rating for every house in the country using the latest data, this will enable the public to better understand the air quality at their own front door.”
Mark Hayward, the chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, the trade body for estate agents, said: “People are spending longer than ever in their homes, and as such they’re becoming more particular about where they buy. Air pollution levels will increasingly play an important part in the decision-making process, particularly those housebuyers who have a young family to raise.”
The UK’s biggest ad agency, AMV BBDO, has worked pro bono to create the ads and website, with other slogans including: “These houses cost an arm, a leg and a lung.” JCDecaux, the billboard company, has given space for the campaign. Some billboards will display the air pollution ratings with statements such as: “80% of houses in this area fail the annual air home quality index. What is your MP doing about it?”
The index will be similar to the energy efficiency ratings people are required to provide when selling a property, Milles said. It will rate air pollution on a five-point scale, from low to very high, with three and above showing illegal levels of toxic air. People will enter the postcode on the website to get the rating for the property.
The website will also enable people to contact their MP, to ask for more cycle paths and charging points for electric cars, for example, and to call for the government’s ban on new diesel and petrol cars to be brought forward from 2040 to 2030.
Prof Matthew Loxham, a toxicologist at Southampton University, said: “There is ever-increasing evidence for the effects of air pollution across the life course. A key step in addressing this is raising public awareness of the problem.”
The government’s Central Office of Information used to run public information campaigns but closed in 2011. Milles founded COPI to fill the gap and has crowdfunded more than £27,000 so far to pay for advertising space.
“We now know that air pollution is poisoning us, but public awareness remains woefully low,” he said. “This campaign will push the issue of air pollution firmly into the mainstream of public awareness and drive the kind of changes we urgently need from government level down.”