Broader positive data behind the pollution near primary schools row

aerial river dawn

The revelation that a quarter of London’s primary schools are in areas that had dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in 2010 is a deeply worrying statistic and led to accusations from the newly elected mayor, Sadiq Khan, that his predecessor, Boris Johnson, had buried a 2013 report.

It was commissioned by the Greater London Authority and its findings make alarming reading, especially for those living and working in inner London. More than 2.2 million people were exposed to level of NO₂ above the EU safe limit in 2010 and this included 137,000 children in 433 primary schools.

But the report also contained some surprisingly positive projections on the speed at which the exposure levels will fall by 2020. The projections were based on emissions data from the GLA and pollution mapping data from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College.  The report concluded that by the end of 2015 the population exposed to harmful levels of NO₂ will have fallen to just over a million and will drop significantly further by 2020 with air quality objectives achieved in outer London, at least.

Pollution population no2-2

NO₂ is particularly harmful to children and the report identified 433 schools, mostly in central London, where levels were unsafe in 2010 – the red dots on the map below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 19.56.37-2

From Analysing Air Pollution Exposure in London

The situation is considerably better now, if the projections made by the researchers are correct. In 2010, 137,000 children aged 4-11 were affected but that should now be below 50,000. By 2020 the situation will improve further.

NO2 near primaries-2

The researchers also looked at pollution compared to deprivation levels, giving the report added political potency. They found that most of the schools with the highest levels of NO₂ were in districts with the highest levels of deprivation.

This is not due to any causal link between deprivation and pollution but due to the location of the schools near to very busy main roads. These areas may be home to more deprived families because property and rental costs are lower close to busy highways.

Many of the worst affected schools are in areas where poor people are resident but they’re also very close to where bankers and brokers work or where theatre-goers flock each evening – this is a central London problem. High nitrogen dioxide levels are bad for everyone, and as previously reported by Urbs, responsible for thousands of deaths.

There’s a lot of politics in this row over whether the bad news in the report was suppressed.  The new mayor is seeking to show himself as the new broom.  He has hit the ground running on the environment saying that he’ll extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone beyond the Congestion Charge area, as far as the North and South Circular roads, and he’ll introduce it early, in 2017.  Drivers of polluting vehicles will face an extra charge for entering the zone.

As the ‘buried’ report shows, London has a big pollution problem but is heading in the right direction. The task for the mayor will be balancing that progress with the economic growth of the capital as more jobs and people add to the environmental challenge.

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See also

Don’t just blame drivers for harmful NO2 pollution

Election Issues: Balancing economic success with green ambitions

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

Tests suggest NO2 pollution levels may be higher at child height

Growing illegal dumping problem costs £20 million to clear up

Sebastian Ballard [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons-1.jpg

Photo: Sebastian Ballard ┃CC BY-SA 2.0

Clearing up illegally dumped rubbish cost taxpayers in London nearly £20 million in the last financial year.   8 of the 10 councils in the country with the biggest problem for fly-tipping are in London, and the problem is getting worse with a 12% increase in dumping incidents in the past 12 months.

Newham has the biggest problem in the country, as it did in the previous year, with more than 70,000 incidents recorded. Enfield had more than 50,000, a 57% increase on 2013/14. In comparison there were fewer than 1,000 recorded incidents in Kingston.

The clear up costs in Newham alone came to £3.34 million. Haringey and Enfield are both paying in excess of £2 million and Croydon and Southwark paid more than a million.

Fly-tipping in London
Number of incidents Clear-up costs
Newham 70,192 £3,339,219
Enfield 50,121 £2,015,058
Haringey 25,709 £2,193,945
Southwark 25,583 £1,063,934
Croydon 18,560 £1,568,123

Newham says that the large number of incidents may be down to better reporting thanks to 7-day a week street cleaning and improved technology for recording incidents.

Two thirds of the incidents in Newham involved fly-tipping on roadsides. Among the things dumped were 1,200 so-called white goods, such as fridges and washing machines.

Enfield recorded 1,322 incidents of fly-tipping on railway lines. It is a problem peculiar to the area as next nearest council with such incidents was Lewisham with just 7.

Clearing up in Haringey and Croydon costs double that of the other boroughs with the most substantial problems. The cost per incident in Croydon was £84.48 while in Newham and Enfield it is around half that. Haringey and Southwark recorded a very similar number of incidents but the clear up costs in Haringey are double those of Southwark.

The data gathered from the councils show that Enfield prosecuted 249 people for fly-tipping, more than any other London council. Newham took action in more than 8,000 cases, half of which involved a warning letter. It issued more than 2,000 fixed penalty notices fines and in a statement said that it had prosecuted 318 people for fly-tipping and littering, but no prosecutions for fly-tipping are recorded in the data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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See also

Fly-tipping hits 5 year high with Newham suffering the biggest problem

London is rubbish at recycling and many boroughs are getting worse

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan


Global success means London is more at risk from climate change, says report

Canary Wharf buidlingThe economy of London is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and businesses are doing too little to make themselves more resilient, according to a report by a committee of the London Assembly.

London’s vulnerability is not confined to local weather events like flooding or drought, and is due largely to its success as a global financial centre. This inter-dependence with other economies means risk for the financial services sector, and international supply chains could be easily disrupted leading to shortages of products or components.

In its report, Weathering the Storm, the Economy Committee of the London Assembly finds that more than half of the FTSE 100 companies have not built climate change adaptation into their business strategy or continuity planning.

And small and medium size businesses are generally less well prepared with 60% lacking any plan to deal with the impact of extreme weather conditions.

See also

Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

The reports says that one problems is a lack of skills in the workforce to help firms develop adaptive strategies and policies to deal with the risk of climate change.

It points to an opportunity for London. It says that the risk from climate change is a global one. There is a growing demand for good, services and infrastructure that can adapt and businesses in the capital may be well placed to provide them.

The committee urges the Mayor, Boris Johnson, to take more action to prepare the city and it companies for extreme weather, both here and globally.

Nearly 9,500 deaths a year – study reveals impact of air pollution

urban sunsetAir pollution is killing nearly 9,500 Londoners each year, more than twice the number previously thought.

The drastic increase is caused by the inclusion for the first time of numbers killed through long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide, NO2, a pollutant largely blamed on diesel engines.

Experts from the Environmental Research Group at Kings College developed new methods to quantify the effects of NO2 in the study carried out for the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. It is thought to be the first study to capture NO2 related deaths.

Previous estimates were based on the damage caused by small particles in the air caused by pollution, so called PM2.5. A study in 2008 calculated these caused more than 4,000 deaths a year. The new study revises that figure down to 3,537, but the addition of 5,879 deaths attributed to NO2 has dramatically increased the estimated death rate.

As previously reported by Urbs, all but two London boroughs are in breach of EU regulation on NO2 levels. The outer boroughs of Sutton and Bromley were the only ones meeting legal limits last year. But this study, based on 2010 data, shows that Bromley had one of the highest rates of deaths caused by air pollution. Along with Barnet, it has the equal highest mortality numbers, followed by Croydon. These are 3 of the most populous boroughs in London, and they have the most cars.

As our map below shows, Sutton comes around mid range. The lowest estimated death rates are recorded for Kingston and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Air pollution deaths

The study also found that the combined effects of PM2.5 and NO2 were responsible for nearly 2,500 hospital admissions for respiratory problems and 740 for cardiovascular damage.

See also

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health

Car ownership reveals a tale of 2 Londons

Heathrow gets the nod to expand, but it’s already Europe’s noisiest airport

Researchers based their findings on pollution levels from 2010 as it is the most recent base year data available from the London Atmospheric Emission Inventory, the system set up to gather air pollution information on the capital.

The GLA says that as the data is 5 years old it does not take into account more recent measures to improve air quality, such as the introduction of more hybrid buses to replace diesel vehicles.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson,  has announced an Ultra Low Emission Zone for 2020 to reduce heavy lorries and coaches in the capital. And in releasing the data he called on the UK Government and the EU to do more, as the study says that half the pollution in London comes from outside, including diesel fumes and industry emissions from continental Europe.

The Mayor also used the opportunity to again voice his opposition to the expansion of Heathrow, as recommended by the Airports Commission.

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Fly-tipping hits 5 year high with Newham suffering the biggest problem

Photo: Arsons Dens ┃Wikimedia Commons

There has been a huge increase across London in fly-tipping, the illegal dumping of rubbish, in the past 12 months. Data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows a 41% increase in incidents in 2013/14, up to 327,000 from 232,000 in the previous 12 months.

Incidents had been decreasing for the past 5 years, but are now back to a similar level as 2009/10.

The borough with the worst problem in London, and in England, is Newham. The East London borough recorded 67,900 incidents last year, up from 28,400. Newham accounts for more than 20% of all the incidents in London.

The council spent around £3 million cleaning up the problem and has launched an app to make it easier for people to record and report incidents.

Fly tipping

Newham records twice the number of incidents of any other borough. Both Haringey and Enfield have more than 31,000 incidents. But 9 London boroughs, including Newham’s neighbour Barking and Dagenham, have fewer than 2,000. The cleanest streets are in Kingston with just 339 recorded incidents.

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence and councils have a number of sanctions open to them from warning letters to prosecutions. The most common action is a fixed penalty notice, which means a fine of £50. Newham issued 7,000 such notices last year, but did not prosecute anyone.

Enfield, with the second highest number of incidents, issued more than 3,000 fixed penalty fines and prosecuted 415 people.

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See also

London is rubbish at recycling and many boroughs are getting worse

Most boroughs fail on legal limit for toxic gas that could harm health



Emission targets at risk as growing population hits greener city plan

aerial river dawnAmbitious targets to reduce greenhouse gases look likely to be missed thanks largely to London’s growing population.

In 2011 the Mayor set out a climate change strategy that aimed to reduce CO2 emissions to 60% of what they were in 1990 by 2025. 1990 is an internationally recognised baseline that countries used in signing the Kyoto agreement.

2015 is the first big milestone in the Mayor’s plan. By the end of this year emissions should be down by 20% on 1990 level. But the most recent data for greenhouse gases in London shows that the capital is off course to hit this target. In 2013 a reduction of only 11% had been achieved. This is better than the 10% of 2012 but falls short of the 13% achieved in 2011.

Emissions annual

In its annual report on the most recent figures the GLA says that 2013 was one of the coldest winters in recent history, which pushed up gas consumption. Without the cold winter a reduction of 13% might have been achieved.

But the record increase in population is the factor that may de-rail the targets. The GLA has admitted that its population estimates at the time that the CO2 reduction strategy was set were “seriously off target”. And more people means higher emission levels.

See also

Tower Hamlets leads the way for London’s greener homes

Traffic pollution battle stalls

London does have the lowest rate of emissions per person of any region in the country. Londoners use cars less and the large number of flats in the housing stock may mean lower energy consumption for heating.

About 40% of emissions are produced by domestic energy use, a similar amount from workplaces and the remaining 20% from transport. All have seen emission reductions since 2000. The largest reduction is in the industrial and commercial sector, which in 2013 was down by 15% on 1990 levels.

emission changes sectors

The Mayor’s strategy to achieve a “cleaner, greener city” is based on 3 pillars – making homes and workplaces more efficient, including retro-fitting existing building as well as ensuring efficiency in new builds; making the city greener with more trees; and improving air quality with measures to reduce transport emissions.

Last year the environment committee of the London Assembly judged that in all areas the Mayor “could do better’. The Mayor will be hoping that London’s success as a growing economy that is attracting more people does not kill off his ambition to reduce its carbon footprint.

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Poor sustainability and high cost public transport mar global cities win

High panoramaLondon scored poorly in the criteria covering the quality of life while winning the Cities of Opportunity global rankings by PwC. It came bottom of the list of 30 cities for the cost of public transport and scored poorly for sustainability.

The rankings by the international professional services company examines cities in 10 different categories that were determined by 59 data points and a survey of 15,000 of PwC’s staff around the globe. The company split the 10 categories into 3 broad areas – Tools for a Changing World, Quality of Life and Economics. As reported by Urbs, London topped the rankings for the first time with good scores in the first and third broad areas. But it was often marked down in judging quality of life.

There were 4 categories in the quality of life part; Transport and Infrastructure covered public transport, housing and construction; Health, Safety and Security looked at health care and crime; the Natural Environment and Sustainability considered recycling, air pollution and public park spaces; and Demographics and Livability looked at issues such as cultural vibrancy and attractiveness for relocation.

London came equal sixth in the first two categories. While its public transport system won accolades for efficiency and reliability it is the most costly among the 30 cities.

But it is in the scoring for the natural environment and sustainability that London slipped down, coming fourteenth. It achieved low scores for air pollution, recycling levels and, perhaps surprisingly, for its public parks.

Singapore joined London in a poor performance in this category prompting PwC to remark, “one would expect two cities as sophisticated as Singapore and London to be among the leaders, both regionally and globally, in environmental sustainability.”

In the livability stakes London rated highly as a vibrant cultural hub that was an attractive destination for workers. But for sheer ease and quality of living it was out-pointed by Sydney.

PwC Quality of Life categories
Transport & Infrastructure Health, Safety & Security Environment & Sustainability Demographics & Livability
1 Singapore Stockholm Stockholm/Sydney Sydney
2 Toronto SydneyToronto London
3 Buenos Aires Berlin/Paris San Francisco
4 Seoul Berlin Berlin
5 Paris San Francisco San Francisco Hong Kong
6 London/ Madrid Chicago/London/   Singapore Toronto Singapore
7 Chicago/Los Angeles Paris
8 Stockholm Stockholm
9 Berlin New York Moscow Toronto
10 Dubai Paris Madrid Chicago/             New York
14 London

Source data

See also

Economic clout helps London to another global cities crown

History gives city the edge in adapting to change in future


Low reservoir levels suggest London may be heading for a drought


As June gets off to a wet and stormy start it is hard to think that London may be in for a drought. But reservoir levels for the capital suggest that there may be problems ahead if it’s a dry summer.

80% of London’s water supply is drawn from the River Thames and the River Lee. The rest is pumped from underground aquifers.   Water taken from the rivers is stored at the Lower Thames Valley reservoirs and the Lee Valley reservoirs.

Data from London’s main water company, Thames Water, shows that the Lower Thames reservoirs are at their lowest level since 2006 and the Lower Lee at the lowest since 2011.


The data is a measure of usable or deployable capacity and it excludes water normally left in a reservoir for environmental or emergency measures.

London was last hit by drought in early 2012 after a very dry autumn and winter in 2011 left reservoir levels low. Rainfall in 4 of the past 6 months has been below average. Figures from Thames Water show that London’s rainfall was 38% below average in December, 81% lower in April and 52% lower in March.

The South East is the driest part of the UK and defined as a “water stressed area” by the Environment Agency. It has more people and a lower rainfall than the rest of the UK.   The average rainfall for England and Wales is 897mm. In London it is 737mm, making it drier than Rome, Istanbul and Sydney, according to Thames Water.

Londoners consume 2.6 billion litres of water a day.  When facing a drought in 2005 the then Mayor, Ken Livingstone, urged people not to flush their toilet if they were just “taking a pee”. We may not be at that point yet but it might take a wet summer to avoid a hosepipe ban.

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Tower Hamlets leads the way for London’s greener homes

Modern flats

London has a bigger proportion of  energy efficient homes than the rest of England, and Tower Hamlets is the leading borough with 3 times the national average for the top green rating.

Whenever a home is built, sold or let it requires a Domestic Energy Performance Certificate that rates it from A to G for its level of energy efficiency.  11.2% of homes are rated as A or B in London compared to 8.8% for England. For A, B and C ratings London is ahead again – 41% compared to 36%.

Urbs looked at all the certificates on the local authority registers from 2008 to the end of the most recent quarter (Q2 2015). As our borough map reveals there are some wide variations in housing energy efficiency, likely related to the nature of the housing stock.

energy efficient homes

27% of the homes in Tower Hamlets are in the A/B category compared to just 5% in Kensington and Chelsea. Tower Hamlets includes the Canary Wharf and Limehouse areas that have seen a huge expansion in new build houses and flats that are more energy efficient than older homes.

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See also

London house prices more than 100% higher than rest of UK

Traffic constant, profits up – a congestion charge story

hThe congestion charge has no impact on the committed motorists who drive into the centre of London every day. For the past 4 years the number of cars in the zone has been flatlining according to the monthly average for a rolling 12 month period. This shows that on average 3.6 million cars travel through the zone each month.


A year on year analysis of the data from Transport for London produces a familiar picture of seasonal ups and downs, with high points in the autumn and low points during summer holidays and Christmas.  In 2014 September was the busiest month with 4.2 million cars, August the quietest with 3.2 million. 2014 was in line with the annual trend since 2011.


The congestion charge was introduced in 2003 and extended westward in 2007, capturing millions more cars.  The western extension was abandoned by the Mayor, Boris Johnson, in 2010, causing a drop big drop in the numbers. Since then the monthly average has remained consistent. Transport for London says the 80,000 fewer cars a day enter the zone compared to pre-charge in 2002.

The failure to persuade more drivers to abandon their cars may be a downside in terms of congestion and the environment but it is financial good news for Transport for London delivering a predictable cash income.

While car numbers remain static the income is going up, helped by a £1.50 charge hike in June 2014, and the costs of running the scheme is coming down.  Last year TfL made a profit of £149 million from the congestion charge. That’s up from £132 million in 2013.  

Congestion charge revenue cost profit

The AA estimates that drivers have handed over £2.6 billion since the scheme began. By law, TfL must spend profits from the charge on transport improvements. It says it has invested £1.2 billion in public transport since 2003, most of it on the bus network.

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