GB Base 5: Clean air in the capital

Government Business shares research into the green efforts of all of the London Boroughs, including climate emergency declarations and carbon zero targets, to compile a list of the top and bottom performing councils in the area of climate action

In one of her last policy moves as Prime Minister, Theresa May announced that the UK will eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has argued that current policies would have to be ramped up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, with many councils across the country setting ambitious targets before the central government 2050 target.

London, like most regions, is keen to be central to this and, as such, has seen many boroughs vocalise their efforts and plans to be deemed ‘leading the way’. But, which authorities are actually driving transformation for the environment, who is blowing out a lot of smoke, and who is yet to join the changing scenery?

Having published our Top 10 list a few weeks ago, celebrating those London Boroughs driving change and deserving plaudits for green ambition, we now turn to the five who are yet to put plans into motion and who we think should be doing more to bring about substantial change.

1 - Barking and Dagenham

Neighbouring London Borough of Redbridge made it onto to the Top 10 list, finishing in ninth place, and Newham Council declared a climate emergency in April, but, as of yet, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has yet to match those efforts.

According to the Office for National Statistics, Barking and Dagenham had the lowest life expectancy of any London borough in 2017, with council leader Darren Rodwell saying that ‘our air quality is worse than other areas’ because of ‘our blue collar past’. The comment was made generally about East London, but councils in east London have recently backed legislation that would give them more powers to combat air pollution.

Barking and Dagenham has also heavily featured on lists detailing the areas across the UK with the dirtiest air, with an average concentration of PM2.5 particles measured at 12.6 micrograms per metre cubed. This has contributed to studies finding that some 6.8 per cent of deaths in this area are attributed to particulate pollution.

The borough received £6 million from the Mayor of London's Air Quality Fund in June, with plans to introduce a new low emission neighbourhood in the Becontree Heath area, as well as create new pocket parks.

GB Base 5: Clean air in the capital

2 - Havering

Also found in East London, the London Borough of Havering ranked lowly in the London Boroughs Healthy Streets Scorecard earlier this year. Measuring how well boroughs are meeting the Mayor of London's targets, Havering was shown to be the worst borough for putting cars ahead of people. While, at 13 per cent, Tower Hamlets has the highest amount of protected cycle track, the Transport for London data shows that Havering has just 1.7 per cent.

In July, at the height of the climate emergency declaration fad, Havering councillors voted against declaring a climate emergency, but accepted a motion for the council to renew its policies regarding environmental protection. Councillor Gillian Ford labelled Havering as ‘the first local authority not to adopt a climate emergency motion’, after the authority voted against suggestions put forward by the local Residents’ Group and following pressure from local Extinction Rebellion campaigners.

Their requests included for the cabinet to initiate a full environmental audit of the council to measure its carbon footprint, to improve the council's recycling rate to reach the target of 55 per cent by 2025 and to set up a Councillor Working Party, which would have various tasks including creating a report with an action plan to address the climate emergency and incorporating proposals on the investment implications of this proposed activity. The calls fell on deaf ears.

3 - Kensington and Chelsea

Referring back to the London Living Streets scorecard, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was ranked the worst of the inner London boroughs, possibly due to having just opposed Transport for London’s plans for a £42 million segregated cycle lane in Holland Park Avenue and Notting Hill Gate in June. Campaigners had argued that the main routes through Holland Park, Notting Hill and Kensington were no longer fit for purpose in a modern city.

More recently, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Leicester used data from the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory to break London into grid squares and then apply measures from the closest grid squares to green spaces to give an annual NO2 average for 4,470 parks and open spaces across London. They found that a quarter of play spaces and public parks and three quarters of private parks had NO2 levels that exceed safety standards. The highest average annual levels of NO2 were found in inner London boroughs, with Kensington and Chelsea highlighted as one of the areas with the highest levels.

King’s College London also suggested that children in Kensington & Chelsea should take backstreets on their walk to school, after finding that children in the borough were exposed to on average five-times-higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on the school run than when they were at school.

Kensington and Chelsea are recorded as having an average concentration of PM2.5 particles measured at 12.9 micrograms per metre cubed.

GB Base 5: Clean air in the capital

4 - Barnet

Barnet Council this year refused to declare a climate emergency, arguing that the government had and it was a matter of national policy. Unable to pass the buck so easily, the London Borough of Barnet was among 105 local authorities written to by lawyers from ClientEarth at the start of September, warning they could violate their legal obligations if ‘evidence-based carbon reduction targets’ are not included in their updated planning policies.

The council’s response was to point to challenging housing targets, which are the second highest in England, and that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan should help cut emissions from roads outside the council’s control. However, the authority did concede that, as a London borough, Barnet’s emerging Local Plan ‘will provide a clearly set out policy framework to make London a net zero-carbon city by 2050’.

The borough is recorded as having an average concentration of PM2.5 particles measured at 11.8 micrograms per metre cubed, with some 6.3 per cent of deaths in this area are attributed to particulate pollution.

5 - Bromley

Perhaps a little unfortunate to appear on this list having established an ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2029, the London Borough of Bromley has been criticised for failing to declare an emergency during the summer. Labour councillors attempted to get the council to declare a climate emergency in July in a bid to join nearby Labour authorities such as Lewisham and Greenwich. However, the move was blocked with the council saying that it is ‘important we deliver action and outcomes, not words’.

Read the GB Top 10 list here.