Karen’s article for the Westminster Chronicle

Posted: 12/03/14

Did you know just how close you live to the most polluted roads in the country? Air pollution is a public health challenge that has been neglected for too long, and we, in Westminster, are on the front line. Worst offender is Grosvenor Place, right outside Buckingham Palace, with Oxford Street next, and Marylebone Road coming very close behind. In fact, half of the 50 most polluted roads in England are right on our own doorstep.

And this isn't just a question of an unpleasant taste in the mouth, either. Polluted air is a silent killer. Air pollution is one of the categories causing all the top four male death categories and four of the top five female death categories in London, such as heart diseases, malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung; chronic lower respiratory diseases; and Cerebrovascular diseases. Air pollution has also been linked to cognitive decline in older people.

‘Heatmaps' show that every London borough except Bexley and Camden appears at least once in the top three worst boroughs for one of the top 10 death categories in the last three years, and the campaign group Clean Air for London states that the Department of Health finds Westminster has the highest death rate in London attributable to air pollution.

And the UK's failure to meet EU standards on clean air is set to cost us dearly.The European Commission is taking court action against the UK Government over their failure to reduce air pollution to below the legal targets originally agreed years ago. The Government has admitted that London is unlikely to meet the limit values set for 2010 until 2025.

Yet the government has cut funding for the network of air quality monitors, as I found out when I wrote to Westminster to ask what action the Council is taking to protect children in our schools from harmful levels of exposure.

We need action, and we need it fast. And starting locally, we want all of Westminster to be included in the Mayor's Ultra Low Emission Zone to ban the oldest diesel vehicles of all sorts, including cars, from 1 January 2020 and a more stringent scheme to include additional and meaningful reductions in regulated air pollutants, by May 2018. Just because we can't see the problem, doesn't mean it isn't real.