Significant increase in air pollution awareness in London - new poll

  • By Gemma Kappala-R...

Nine out of 10 Londoners that agreed the capital’s air quality changed during lockdown thought this was a positive change, and there is increasing awareness that air pollution must be dealt with, new polling commissioned by London Councils reveals.

In the fifth year of research to gauge Londoners’ understanding of air quality and its effect on their lives, published on Clean Air Day 2020, almost half of respondents this year (43%) feel that their health had been impacted by London’s air quality and a similar proportion (48%) say that air pollution concerns affect decisions in their day to day lives, particularly for parents and people who cycle. 

Overall awareness of London’s air pollution as an issue has significantly risen in those five years from 83% in 2016 to 93% of people polled in 2020.

Private motor vehicles were seen as the biggest main cause of pollution (22%), followed by vans and lorries (18%). However, this year saw the reduction of vehicle use at the beginning of lockdown as more people remained in their homes and their local areas. Of people who felt that air quality had changed since the introduction of lockdown, 92% believed the air quality in London had a positive change. However recent evidence suggests vehicle use is increasing once more due to business activity and people’s reluctance to use public transport. 

Tackling London’s toxic air pollution remains a priority for London’s boroughs. Air pollution in London is a public health crisis that significantly affects Londoners’ physical and mental health, costing the NHS around £3.7 billion per year in London alone. 

Cllr Claire Holland, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said: 

“This research emphasises that Londoners are increasingly aware of the effects of air pollution and the impact it has on people’s health and wellbeing, especially children and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma.

“We are dealing with a public health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is shining a spotlight on the importance of good health. A growing number of Londoners want more to be done to challenge air pollution as it continues to make people unwell and restrict their life choices.

“Unfortunately, in recent weeks there has been a rise in car-based travel as people are uncomfortable using public transport to complete their journeys. This is only adding to London’s air pollution and high congestion. We must take this opportunity to present green alternatives to sustain the better air quality Londoners have enjoyed in recent months. 

“London’s air quality continues to be a major public health issue. It is imperative we listen to Londoners and do not emerge from the Coronavirus public health crisis only to face a different crisis resulting from London’s toxic air pollution.” 

In order to drive improvements in London’s air quality, London Councils is making the following policy recommendations:

• Government should adopt the World Health Organisation target for PM2.5 as a legal limit to be met no later than 2030 and introduced as soon as is possible.

• Government should introduce additional regulatory powers for local authorities to control emissions from appliances, such as gas and solid fuel boilers, combined heat and power plants, construction machinery and standby diesel generators.

• Government should look to review and align the tax system, such as fuel duty and other relevant taxes, with air quality and other environmental priorities.

• Government should create a national £1.5 billion Clean Air Fund to enable cities to implement Clean Air Zones and tackle emissions, including through vehicle scrappage and retrofit schemes.

• The Office of Environmental Protection should be more independent of Government. The choice of Chair and budget should not be the responsibility of DEFRA, but of Parliament.

• The Office of Environmental Protection should have the ability to levy fines against companies or Government, as the European Commission can currently does.


Notes to Editors:

This study was conducted in Great Britain via OnLineBus, an Internet omnibus survey by Research Express, which is part of Kantar UK Ltd.

SAMPLE SIZE – a sample of 1013 London adults aged 16+ were interviewed.

INTERVIEWING – Interviewing was conducted by online self-completion from 17th - 22nd September (Weekend 38).

WEIGHTING – The sample has been weighted to represent the adult population of London 16+.

LOW BASES – Where unweighted base figures are less than 100, data should be treated cautiously, as large margins of error are possible