Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced plans to clean up toxic air at schools in the worst polluted areas of the capital.
Starting in the new year, the London Schools Pollution Helpdesk will help schools deliver air quality audits, which could recommend a range of actions including closing roads to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times, walking and scooting campaigns, adding green infrastructure and tackling engine idling.
Transport for London (TfL) has also funded 430 new 'School Streets' – where roads surrounding schools are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times, with over 300 already delivered in 23 boroughs. The changes mean that parents would incur a penalty fine of £130 for school runs if they use the streets with CCTV used to catch any rule breakers.
Poor air quality stunts the growth of children’s lungs and worsens chronic illness such as asthma, lung and heart disease. TfL data from 2018 showed the school run made up a quarter of weekday morning traffic, with the average school journey being less than one kilometre, around a 10-minute walk.
Mayor Sadiq Khan said: 'I am doing everything in my power to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages children’s lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. The Ultra Low Emission Zone has already cut toxic air by a third and led to reductions in roadside nitrogen dioxide that are five times greater than the national average.'
Mr Khan highlighted that the number of state schools recording illegal levels of pollution had been cut 'by 97% – from 455 schools in 2016 to 14 in 2019 - based on average concentrations in a circle with a radius of 150 metres across the school site.
However, there are two main air pollutants of concern - nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) - and all schools in London still exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline for PM2.5.
Mr Khan said: 'I am committed to expanding the ULEZ next year. I have also consistently demanded that the Government match my ambitions and improve the new Environment Bill to include legally binding WHO recommended limits to be achieved by 2030, and to give cities the powers we need to eradicate air pollution.'
New data from the Breathe London air quality monitoring project revealed that almost 40% of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution at schools comes from road transport, with diesel cars being the single biggest local contributor.