Air pollution that is suffered by pedestrians across south London, including Croydon and Sutton, has been well above legal levels for several years.
But now one environmental activist in Wallington is doing something about it, at least to draw the public’s attention to the toxic air that taints every breath they take.
The air pollution monitor on Woodcote Road (the high street through Wallington’s main shopping area) has recorded pollution above legal limits year on year since 2016.
Over the summer, Carshalton resident Verity Thomson created a chalk design on the pavement around the air quality monitor to highlight the problem. Thomson has linked in with “Mums for Lungs”, the group campaigning for clean air.
Last week, she stencilled the pavement with spray chalk in front of the monitor. By the following morning, the stencil had been removed, Thomson assumes by council street cleaners.
“It would seem that Sutton Council can clean the pavement, but not the air,” she told Inside Croydon.
“It’s clear little has been done or been effective to improve our local air quality over the last five years, or more.
“This is a real worry for our health, in particular for children whose lungs are still developing and are more susceptible to the damaging effects of air pollution.
“Finding that pollution levels were above legal limits even through the pandemic, when a lot of people were staying at home and not using their cars, is really disappointing and shows we have a huge challenge,” Thomson said.
The expansion of the ULEZ – the Mayor of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone – will help to reduce emission levels in the areas included within this zone, but this side of the Thames, it extends only as far as the South Circular.
“Much more needs to be done to protect us all,” Thomson said.
“I think we need awareness campaigns to reduce unnecessary pollution, such as engine idling which although illegal is very rarely enforced, better and affordable public transport (which should be subsidised to cost less than driving), and more school streets.”
Unlike Croydon, Sutton Council has shied away from School Streets.
These were trialled as part of a Transport for London scheme in 2020, but Sutton Council decided to remove them. The council started a new consultation process with a view to re-install them this autumn. In the latest stage of the consultation, Thomson says that parents of the children attending the proposed schools were not consulted.
Stationary idling is an offence under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Act enforces Rule 123 of the Highway Code, which states: “You must not leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.”
Doing this can incur a £20 fixed-penalty fine under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002, rising to £40 if unpaid before a deadline.
But a Freedom of Information request to Sutton – the council that backs the polluting waste incinerator at Beddington – shows that between April 2020 and March 2021, no officials were used to combat engine idling. In the whole of the previous year, Sutton officers were deployed for just 24 hours in total, in which time 43 drivers were spoken to.
Compare this to Richmond, where in 2020, 8,872 idling drivers were told to turn their engines off. This figure includes a four-month pause due to covid-19. During this period, Richmond’s air quality monitors did not record illegal levels of pollution.
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