01 February, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Council wants to meet World Health Organisation’s strict safe limits by 2030
Members of the public are invited to join the full council meeting
THE Town Hall is set to declare an unprecedented war on car drivers blamed for Camden’s poisoned air. Council chiefs were urged to embark on radical steps including closing off roads, slashing the number of parking bays, charging a levy on driving to work and banning traffic around school.
In a debate on tackling air quality, members of the public were allowed to contribute to Monday’s full council meeting, a session previously reserved for politicians. One of the targets of new measures will be parents accused of clogging up the streets during the school run. It was noted with dismay how some parents ignore Camden’s state schools on their doorsteps in Hampstead and Highgate to drive to private education further afield. As the debate went on, the practice of using cars for non-essential journeys was branded anti-social.
The new focus on air quality comes amid reports that everybody living or working in the borough has breathed in unsafe particulate matter. Camden has resolved as a council – the first authority to do so – to meet World Health Organisation’s stringent recommended limits on air pollution.
All parties agree: we must get tough to stop our citizens choking to death
WHEN it came to a vote on whether Camden should chase the strictest limits on air pollution, only one councillor did not raise his hand in favour of the idea. Conservative Jonny Bucknell told the meeting that he did not trust the World Health Organisation’s analysis because “a few years ago they said thousands of people were going to die from a flu epidemic and they got their figures wrong”. Besides, his parents have lived through the London smogs and go on to a “ripe old age” and, he added, humans were better at adapting to their conditions than they were credited for. “Nomads live in the desert, Eskimos live in the cold – if you swapped the two over they’d completely conk out”, he said.
Cllr Bucknell has been deselected in his Belsize ward ahead of May’s council elections and is a self-confessed contrarian, known for offbeat contributions. At the end of this one, he walked over to the Labour leadership with a Scottish bank note offering a bet on whether the council would hit the target. Everybody else in the council chamber on Monday night was on board with the notion, as they agreed to try to hit the WHO’s limits – tougher than the European Union’s recommended safe level, on levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the air by 2030.
At current levels, every street is polluted to some degree, with everybody who lives or works in London considered to have breathed in dangerous amounts. To reach the 2030 goal, however, Camden is casting around for ideas on how to take the poison out of the air, and this led to a flow of ideas at cracking down on car travel considered unnecessary. For the first time, the all-member meeting allowed members of the public and local experts to sit the semi-circle of green benches in the chamber to join the debate.
Rachel Wrangham, from the Clean Air Camden group, said: “Wherever possible remove traffic from school gates, be bold, don’t just close a side street.” She told councillors: “At the moment it’s entirely rational for far too many of us to drive far too much of the time. Commit to making it more rational for able-bodied adults to walk cycle or take public transport. Tighten parking restrictions to reduce evening and weekend driving and offer tangible rewards to the car free.”