Government must make commitments to tackle pollution

  • By Gemma Kappala-R...

As the UK marks the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, London Councils – which represents the 32 boroughs and the City of London – is calling on government to play its part or see the capital face decades of poor air quality. 

The Clean Air Act 1956, which was passed in response to London's Great Smog of 1952, regulated both domestic and industrial smoke emissions for the first time. But despite it marking an important milestone in environmental protection, air pollution in the capital still contributes to 9,500 premature deaths a year.

Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said:

“Air pollution is a silent killer in the capital and should not be underestimated. Whilst we are encouraged that the issue is rising up the national agenda, it is vital that more is done.

“London boroughs take their responsibilities for managing and improving air quality very seriously and are doing their level best to tackle the issue – from installing electric vehicle charging points to setting up large-scale schemes to group council deliveries into fewer vehicles.

“But it is clear that pollution does not respect borough boundaries, and councils cannot do this alone: it is a capital-wide problem that requires capital-wide solutions. The boroughs have welcomed the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and its possible extension and will work with the Mayor to come up with a suitable boundary. But government also needs to play its part.

“This is why we are calling on government to make firm commitments to meet air quality targets, enforce standards for diesel vehicles, and introduce financial incentives, such as a diesel scrappage scheme to encourage use of low emission vehicles.”

London Councils wants the government to consider measures including:

  • Committing to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide by 2020, despite the vote to leave the EU in June.
  • Ensuring new diesel vehicles coming onto the market meet EU Euro 6 standards in real driving conditions, not just those experienced under laboratory conditions.
  • Fiscal incentives and penalties to encourage low emission vehicles that address both the carbon dioxide as well as the particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions.
  • Introducing a national scrappage scheme for the most polluting vehicles on our roads.


Case studies

Camden, Enfield and Islington 

These boroughs have worked together with the private sector to create a Freight Consolidation Service in Edmonton. Council suppliers deliver their goods to the Consolidation Centre, where they are grouped into fewer onward deliveries. This scheme helps reduce pollution, congestion and costs to the suppliers. 212 suppliers have participated so far, serving 314 separate addresses. The Consolidation Centre has achieved a 51% reduction in associated nitrogen dioxide and 69% reduction in associated particulate matter.


Haringey has installed ‘green screens’ at schools adjacent to main roads to reduce the exposure of young children to poor air quality. They use vegetation that can absorb pollutants and the screens have wider benefits including making playgrounds more attractive places to play and reducing noise from adjacent roads. 

City of London

The City of London has been tackling engine idling by training volunteers to speak to drivers. Businesses were asked to sign up to switch off their engines during Cleaner Air Action Days.


London’s first rapid on-street electric vehicle charging points, which can fully charge a vehicle in less than 30 minutes, were launched in July 2015 by Hackney Council. The three publicly-available 50kw devices are located in Hackney’s main town centres: Bentley Road in Dalston; Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch; and Reading Lane in Hackney Central. Vehicles will fully charge within half-an-hour compared to between three and four hours when standard units are used.