Residents want to keep cleaner air – survey

night traffic on main road

Three in four local people say air quality was better during lockdown and want action to keep it that way, according to a survey published today (2 July).

The Guy’s and St. Thomas’ CharityGlobal Action Plan and Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE), which together organised the survey, also say that air pollution declined by significant amounts in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark during lockdown.

The survey of 522 residents by Opinimum found that: 

  • 73% of Lambeth respondents said air quality was better during lockdown
  • 73% of Lambeth and Southwark respondents were concerned about increased traffic
  • 78% of Lambeth and Southwark respondents were concerned about air pollution levels increasing
  • 74% of respondents in Lambeth and Southwark wanted more urgent government and local authority investment in plans to tackle air pollution and traffic
  • 72% of Lambeth and Southwark residents thought that the last few months have proved that clean air in cities can be achieved for the long term
  • 82% of respondents in Lambeth thought businesses needed to do more to cut pollution and traffic after the lockdown.

Lambeth and Southwark are being used as “test bed boroughs” by Global Action Plan and the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity for ongoing research on these topics.

The organisers of the survey also compared nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels from 1 December 2019 to 29 February this year with those for the first four weeks of lockdown (17 March to 14 April).

Brixton Road famously exceeded annual international legal NO2 levels in just a few days 2017. The monitor that recorded these breaches was not part of the current data.

However, a nearby Breathe London monitor in Stockwell Road recorded a reduction in NO2 during the lockdown period of 6.2% overall and 12.6% during waking hours.

Another monitor at Triangle Adventure Playground near the Oval recorded a 4.1% reduction overall and 9.7% during waking hours.

crowded road
Traffic on Atlantic Road

The scheme’s organisers believe that a combination of traffic restrictions for road works and lockdown saw NO2 levels drop by a third overall on Borough High Street near Guy’s hospital and by 38.7% during waking hours.

Claire Holland, Lambeth council’s deputy leader (sustainable transport, environment & clean air), said the research was clear evidence that borough residents “want to build back better when it comes to making clean and sustainable transport choices”.

She said: “An overwhelming majority of our residents do not want to reignite the air pollution crisis that stunted the growth of our children’s lungs and risks the lives of our older residents and those with underlying health conditions before coronavirus struck. 

“Given that only 40% of people living in Lambeth own a car, there’s a clear need to prioritise clean and sustainable modes of transport as we look to the future so that we don’t lurch from one public health crisis to another.”

The survey organisers are offering Lambeth and Southwark companies free support to building clean air into their business recovery plans.

The Build Back Cleaner Air project from Global Action Plan and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity is the UK’s first free initiative to help businesses prioritise the most effective ways to cut air pollution and make a green recovery post lockdown. Companies can sign up for free.

The survey comes as Lambeth council is initiating ambitious plans to reduce traffic locally and the Brixton Business Improvement District (BID) is floating the idea of banning cars from central Brixton altogether.