New data reveals London’s green spaces now exceed pollution limits

Environmental campaigners have urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ramp up his commitments to improve the air quality of the capital after a new open data website revealed that many parks in the capital are now exceeding the European Union's (EU) recommended limit for air pollution.

The open data tool was launched yesterday (10 August) as a means of allowing the general public to compare the NO2 levels in London’s Royal Parks using the latest available data.

The figures show that large green spaces such as Green Park, St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park have levels of NO2 which breech legal EU limits, with some parks exceeding the restrictions by almost double.

“It’s shocking to learn that even in London’s supposedly green spaces, the air we breathe is unsafe,” Friends of the Earth campaigner Sophie Neuburg said.

“Air pollution is a public health scandal. No-one suspects that when they have a summer picnic, they are actually breathing in fumes which are linked to heart disease and cancer. Children playing outside are being exposed to filthy air which is damaging their lungs and causing asthma.”

Park life

edie put these statistics on pollution levels in London’s green spaces to Ian Allard, sustainability manager at Royal Parks – which is responsible for administering and maintaining London parks including Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Richmond Park. 

Allard drew attention to the fact that more than 170,000 trees help the capital breathe easier by absorbing nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Air pollution intake can still be halved by taking a few minutes’ stroll from Oxford Street into Hyde Park, Allard said.

“London is one of the busiest cities in the world and 77 million people every year visit the Royal Parks to get away from the hustle and bustle,” he said. “Part of their appeal is the 5,000 acres of open parkland, tranquillity and clean air in comparison to the surrounding busy roads or nearby open spaces, proving that our parks truly are the lungs of London.

“We help the environment by improving our tree population, increasing the number of meadows across their parks, through extensive planting of flora and fauna and managing our water quality. We also encourage our visitors to use sustainable transport when coming to the parks and are supporting the provision of better cycling facilities across the capital.”

Capital pledges

The issue of air quality in London has gained much publicity in recent months, with statistics revealing that air pollution kills 10,000 people in the capital, which breached its annual pollution limits in just one week.

In a bid to improve the deteriorating air quality situation, the Mayor of London has made air quality a central part of his manifesto by introducing a range of bold green measures. Indeed, on Tuesday (9 August) Khan confirmed plans to roll out the first batch of low-emission bus zones along the capital’s most polluted transport routes.

The Mayor’s efforts have been commended by Friends of the Earth, but the environmental group insist that proposals could be made even stronger. “Sadiq Khan’s vow to make cleaning up our air a top priority is welcome, but his plans don’t go far enough – he must commit to bringing London’s air pollution down to legal and safe levels by 2020 and pledge now to restrict traffic when pollution is bad,” Neuburg said.

Despite these reservations, the Mayor’s fight against London’s air pollution has seen strong progress in the four months since his election. A wide-ranging action plan to tackle toxic air in the capital has included the implementation of clean bus corridors, an extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and an emissions surcharge on the most polluting vehicles.

Last month, Khan unveiled proposals to pedestrianise Oxford Street and pledged to help some of London’s most polluted boroughs by implementing stringent proposals to tackle toxic air quality hotspots with an £11m fund. In just his first week in office, the London Mayor revealed he would be directly involved in renewed action with environmental law firm ClientEarth during its ongoing legal battle with the Government.

George Ogleby

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