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.
Official 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.
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.
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.
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.
This data is all in the public domain – londonair.org.uk’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.
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.
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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