Mayor’s school air quality audits to help protect thousands of London children from toxic pollution

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, today announced the first of 50 ‘air quality audits’ for primary schools in the worst polluted areas in London to help protect children from  toxic air in the capital.

As part of the Mayor’s bold and ambitious plans to tackle air quality, the audits – funded by £250,000 from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund and conducted by global engineering consultancy WSP – will identify hard-hitting measures to protect pupils’ health from toxic air.

They will also examine new ways to dramatically lower emissions and exposure to pollution in and around schools.

The audits will be complete by the end of 2017, with reports ready by March 2018.

Audit recommendations could include:

  • moving school entrances and play areas to reduce exposure to busy roads;
  • ‘no engine idling’ schemes to reduce harmful emissions during the school run;
  • minimising emissions from boilers, kitchens and other sources;
  • changes to local roads, including improved road layouts, restricting the most polluting vehicles round schools and pedestrianisation around school entrances;
  • green infrastructure such as ‘barrier bushes’ along busy roads and in playgrounds to help to filter toxic fumes;
  • improvements to encourage walking and cycling to school along less polluted routes

The 50 schools to be audited are part of a pilot, which if successful, the Mayor hopes boroughs will take the lead and audit every school located in an area of high pollution.

The Mayor made the announcement as he met pupils from Prior Weston Primary School in Islington, the first school to be audited. Prior Weston is located close to a busy traffic-laden road, Beech Street, which has pollution levels that are twice the legal limit and is used by many pupils to walk to and from school.

The school is also within the T-charge zone, meaning that, from 23 October, vehicles in the area will need to meet minimum exhaust emission standards, or pay a daily £10 Emissions Surcharge in addition to the Congestion Charge.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“It is shameful that children across London are breathing in toxic air simply by going to and from school and I am determined to do everything in my power to safeguard their health. These air quality audits are a big step towards helping some of the most polluted schools in London identify effective solutions to protect pupils from toxic fumes but, of course, this is only part of the solution.

“Next month, I will be launching my T-charge to rid central London of the oldest, most polluting vehicles and before the end of the year I will be announcing a decision on my plans to bring forward and extend the Ultra-Low Emission Zone along some of our busiest roads. We are making great strides in London but I can’t do this alone. The government must match my ambition in tackling the biggest public health emergency of a generation.”

When the T-charge is introduced on 23 October, it will be the toughest emission standard of any city in the world. The vast majority of pre-2006 vehicles will need to pay an additional £10 emissions surcharge to travel in the central London Congestion Charge zone. Every weekday, up to 10,000 of the oldest, most polluting vehicles are expected to be potentially liable for the new emissions levy, which will apply to motorists who own vehicles that do not meet Euro 4 standards. This is an important first step to implementing the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which will affect many more vehicles and is expected to reduce NOx emissions by around 50 per cent.

As well as benefitting from the Mayor’s T-charge, Prior Weston is situated a short walk between two of his Low Emission Neighbourhoods – one in the Barbican and one in the Shoreditch area run by Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils. The Low Emission Neighbourhood in the Barbican is working to tackle pollution by developing proposals only to allow Ultra Low Emission Vehicles that have a ‘zero emission mode’ to drive along certain roads. Prior Weston is already taking steps to improve air quality and educate pupils about pollution by encouraging cycling and scooting to school, and providing a shelter for bicycles and scooters.

Andrew Boyes, Headteacher at Prior Weston Primary School, said:

“Prior Weston Primary School is delighted to be included in The Mayor’s Air Quality Audit. It is a great opportunity for our children to learn more about environmental issues that impact directly on their lives and to make a substantial difference to key pollution issues that affect everyone in our local community. It is great for the children to be able to apply their maths, science and communication skills through such a meaningful and worthwhile project. The children are really excited to meet The Mayor and to start making a difference to air quality in London.”

This year, City Hall has been engaging with London boroughs and schools to identify their needs. Schools were shortlisted according to their exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – which can be harmful to the development of children’s lungs – and the number of pupils per school, and then the boroughs selected their priority schools for auditing. WSP will be carrying out the audits whilst working closely with the Mayor and boroughs.

Consultants WSP will work with each of the 50 polluted schools for a better understanding of air quality in and around the school, analyse travel behaviour, identify walking routes and prioritise local needs before making recommendations for improvements. The emphasis will be on lower cost interventions as far as possible, for example planting and no-idling schemes.

However, they will also identify and recommend larger-scale infrastructure improvements to be delivered in partnership with the local borough, for example improved road layouts and pedestrianisation. By engaging with the school community, the audits will also raise awareness about air pollution exposure amongst young children and the highlight the need for action by boroughs.

Glenn Higgs, Associate Director at WSP, said:

“Air quality in London is a major challenge and we need to better understand what causes it at a local level. The audits will enable us to recommend the best steps to reduce air pollution for the benefit of schoolchildren and their community. WSP works with local authorities across the UK on air quality and we hope that this audit will provide inspiration to others to best understand how they can reduce pollution levels.”

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington Council’s executive member for environment and transport, said:

“Air pollution in Islington is a health crisis that’s happening now, and we are doing everything we can to reduce the toxins we breathe. Children are particularly vulnerable to this invisible pollution and we have long been calling for action to help make a difference in our schools.

“So I applaud the Mayor Of London’s bold and ambitious approach to driving up air quality across the capital – especially here in Islington. We welcome the detailed audit at Prior Weston, which is one of our most polluted schools, and will do our utmost to implement the ground-breaking proposals that will follow.

“Based on the success of the pilot we will seek to secure the necessary funding to carry out similar audits for all our other schools, for the sake of every child and our future generations.”