Council planning committee approves primary school build alongside one of London’s most badly polluted roads

Croydon Council’s planning committee last night granted approval for a school, for children as young as five, to be built alongside one of the most polluted roads in London, the A23 Purley Way.

vehicle exhaustsOfficial air quality readings in the past month have shown that levels of nitrogen dioxide alongside the four-lane arterial road near the site of the proposed school regularly exceed legal air quality limits.

On February 18 this year, NO2 levels reached more than two-and-a-half times the levels permitted under EU laws.

This information was not provided to the councillors sitting on the planning committee.

As a consequence, a majority of councillors followed Town Hall staff recommendations to approve the plans. The councillors had received a report from a Croydon environmental health officer which stated: “Due to the open nature of the area and the prevailing south-westerly wind, dispersion and deposition of particles and nitrogen dioxide is good, ensuring that pollution levels are much lower than other parts of the borough, despite the amount of traffic.

“If a parent and child is crossing the Purley Way at Fiveways on foot, they will receive insignificant exposure to pollutants.”

Reading that, you could be forgiven for mistaking the smoggy air along the Purley Way for the bracing clear breezes of the Devonshire seaside…

The environmental health officer who made those remarks remains unnamed.

Yet at a previous council planning meeting, even the council’s own planning officers conceded that the Purley Way site is “not the most perfect location” for a school.

And such are the concerns about air pollution in the vicinity that the council is having to build a hermetically sealed school, with the 500-plus pupils to be cut off from the noxious fumes outside through an expensive ventilation system.

The three-form-entry primary is to be paid for out of public money and built for the Harris Federation, one of the largest operators of academy chains. Harris distributed brochures last autumn announcing their determination to open on the site – in temporary accommodation initially – from September 2016.

Councillor Jamie Audsley: Croydon's exam results were the elephant in the room at education scrutiny meeting last week

Over-emotional: Jamie Audsley

Croydon’s planning committee, strongly led by chairman Paul Scott, voted along party lines last night, with six Labour councillors – Scott, Humayan Kabir, Maddie Henson, Jamie Audsley, Sherwan Chowdhury and Bernadette Khan – all voting in favour of granting planning permission to build the primary opposite Wing Yip, while four Conservative councillors opposed the scheme.

A vote calling for a deferral of the decision until more information could be compiled on pollution and concerns about the size of the site was defeated along similar lines.

Committee member Audsley sought to placate concerned residents from Propeller Crescent who attended the meeting by saying that they should “not get over-emotional about it”. More than one resident said that they felt patronised by such remarks.

Throughout the planning process, residents and councillors had been assured by council officials that the Purley Way’s air pollution monitoring station – which is coincidentally positioned on the site proposed for the school – puts pollutants at the “upper end” of legal limits during rush-hour traffic.

That much is true, but only if you rely on average figures. The latest stats show an annual mean concentration of nitrogen dioxide (that is a rolling average recorded since January 2016) of 35 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m³). Under European Union legislation, the upper limit for such readings since 2010 is supposed to be no higher than 40ug/m³.

But the data for the past month, as collated by King’s College London, shows that the Purley Way exceeded EU limits on NO2 levels on 22 days out of the last 28.

Purley Way air quality graph Feb-Mar 2016

The air quality graph for the A23 Purley Way, at the site of the proposed school, over the last 28 days. Notice how often the legal limit of 40 is broken

This data is all in the public domain –’s Purley Way pages are here – and could have been accessed easily by the council’s professional staff, including the anonymous environmental health officer, at any time during the preparation of their report. You can draw your own conclusions why this simple task was not done.

Because the average readings on air quality along this stretch of busy road are irrelevant.

Over the last 28 days, the only days when the Purley Way has not exceeded EU healthy air standards have tended to be weekends – when the school will be closed.

Croydon’s plan is for parents to “park and stride” their children: drive to Morrison’s by the usually traffic-snarled Fiveways junction, and then walk the youngsters the 200 yards or so alongside the busy highway to the school gates.

According to the King’s College data, the biggest peaks in air pollution on the Purley Way tend to be at around 6pm to 7pm, after school hours, but there are also smaller daily spikes at 8am, and the levels generally remain higher than the legal level throughout the day.

Having the school on the Purley Way will also increase the amount of traffic on the already busy road, with an estimated additional 1,000 car journeys per weekday to bring the pupils and staff to the school gates and take them home again.

Two years ago, Paul Scott and his close friend, Tony Newman, now the council leader, ran for election on a Labour manifesto that included, “Our goal is to make Croydon the cleanest and greenest borough in London”.

Last night, Scott, Audsley and the rest of the Labour councillors on the planning committee, presumably with the backing of Newman, made a decision which consigned generations of Croydon youngsters to a daily journey to school along one of London’s most polluted A-roads, a journey which may increase the risk of those children suffering life-long asthma and other lung diseases.

They probably think that’s progress.

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11 Responses to Council planning committee approves primary school build alongside one of London’s most badly polluted roads

  1. Hold on for one moment, if the site is not good for building a new school due to dangers air pollution for the children, than why is it good enough to have housing near to school site and the road where both Adults & children live. Adults healths count just as much as children too when it comes to serious pollution.

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    Well done for exposing this. It’s yet another example of members of this Council who are not fit for purpose. How they have the nerve to claim their £18,000+ a year is beyond belief. However, the question that must be asked to Councillors Scott, Kabir, Henson, Audsley, Chowdhury and Khan, is would they send their own children to this school? Under different circumstances, we all know the answer we’d get!

  3. derekthrower says:

    Lots of stories are starting to come out about the dodgy Harris chain which is conveniently protected by it’s Conservative establishment connections. One is that they are actively attempting to recruit foreign nationals as maths teachers in their secondary schools. Rather hilarious with regards to the comments of “No if’s ! No but’s !” Cameron. With regards to air pollution. This is becoming one of the scandals of the incompetent Johnson’s reign and perhaps a legacy which scientific evidence is now starting to scrutinise unlike the compliant media. Finally with regards to the local authority. What would happen if they declined this application in a time of chronic shortage of school places? They would be turned over at appeal to Central Government and the Mayor anyway !!! It would be delightful if you showed some grasp of who actually has political power and control in local government these days.

  4. This is a shameful,murderous decision.and should be hung around this Council’s neck like an Albatross.
    One of the things that couldv’ve been done,but wasn’t,because the results would be even more awful,was “walking the walk” with a personal proper particle recorder.

    Clean Air in London (see tweets for March 12th)

    #PollutionCheck: 439.7m particles per m3 > 0.3 microns. Time 0857. Humidity 42%. **93.9% of record high (16/3/15)**

    The Purley Way monitor is hidden behind a tall fence.Levels of pollution are regularly found to be higher BETWEEN monitoring stations than at them.Monitoring stations DO NOT count nano particles,which are “hidden” in published figures,and are counted in hundreds of millions per cubic metre.No allowance is made for the different levels of pollution at different head heights.Typically a child or a buggy will be breathing in 30% more pollution than monitor measures.I could go on,but your eyes would glaze over.

    The best summary of the BRAIN DAMAGING EFFECTS of all of this was written by me,and I apologise.It is heartening to see,however,that these effects ar no longer seen as an eccentric outlyer,but included in the Royal College of physicians report.
    References follow:

    see the horrible photos here (!)

    (link to download)

    This decision is a wilful,profit orientated,child-damaging assault on our future,by a government with profound donor links to the diesel industry.F**K the “economy” if it means this.

  5. marzia27 says:

    Progress? xxxxxxxx!
    Obtuse totalitarianism, more like, combined with denial of facts.

  6. There was always a school, there, Waddon Infants and that was in the days before unleaded petrol. The lanes were not restricted like they are now and it was like a racetrack at times. I guess there could be an argument that there’s more traffic on the roads now but it was constantly busy. There were more factories close to the school then and they brought in lorries and vans.

    • We addressed the issue of the primary school formerly on the site in our previous posts on the proposals last year, Andrew (the links are embedded in the report).

      It is worth noting that that previous primary was only about one-third of the size of the current proposal, and the school was moved from the site alongside the Purley Way because of concerns about the air quality beside such a busy road.

    • davidjl2014 says:

      Poor research here, as the original school was closed for they exact reason why it would be idiotic to build another on the same site. You’re not, by any chance, considering standing in the next Council Elections are you? Sounds as if you’d win with a landslide majority.

  7. Former Greenpeace chief Stephen Tindale, who was working on air pollution at the same time, in the department of the environment, remembers a battle between environment and air pollution divisions, but no public debate about health. “British politicians have always been poor on air quality,” Tindale says. “It was just not on the political agenda in late 1990s. In 1997, Labour’s policy was for a 20% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020. Tony Blair wasn’t obsessed with climate at that point, but he saw the political and soundbite advantage. The department of health was dozy, with Frank Dobson and then David Blunkett in charge.”

    A very senior civil servant, now retired, who worked in the department and has asked not to be named, said that cost-benefit studies of a switch to diesel were done, but climate change was “the new kid on the block” and long-term projections of comparative technologies were not perfect.

    “I recall all the discussions had the health issue as a significant factor,” he says. “We did not sleepwalk into this. To be totally reductionist, you are talking about killing people today rather than saving lives tomorrow. Occasionally, we had to say we were living in a different political world and everyone had to swallow hard.”

    Now we can pretend that pathology doesn’t start in the womb,that severe lung and arterial damage occurs later and if you can’t see a person die you are not a murderer.On the other hand its so reassuring to see that Croydon is maintaining “traditional politics” and SWALLOWING HARD!

  8. Waddon Infants had 180 pupils. The new Harris Academy Purley Way will have 630 pupils and runs right up next to the Purley Way unlike the old school that was well behind the trees planted by Waddon Infants’ governors to help screen out pollution. These trees were cut down on March 14.

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