Extending the low emission zone to polluted Tower Hamlets: what do local people think?

Apocalyptic sacred glamor stencils, Brick Lane. Pic: Cory Doctorow (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tower Hamlets’ has some of the most polluted air in London with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels twice that of the European legal limit. Government statistics estimate that air pollution directly contributes to 85 deaths a year in the borough.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been vocal about tackling London’s air problems, recently demanding Volkswagen pay a £2.5m fine for misleading regulators and avoiding congestion charge payments.

This follows Khan’s July announcement that an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – due to come into effect at the end of 2020 – could be expanded beyond central London, setting emissions standards for vehicles within the North and South Circular roads.

The current ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) Boundary. Pic: TfL

The current ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) Boundary. Pic: TfL

In October, Transport for London opened a consultation on the new plans, which could charge cars up to £12.50 to enter the zone. The government hope this will reduce emissions of NOx – which forms harmful NO2 – by 40 per cent in the area. You can see London’s air pollution levels here.

Currently mostly outside the confirmed ULEZ, Tower Hamlets could be included in the new proposed zone. The consultation closes on 18th December – but we took to the streets to ask residents what they think.

MD Sovur, 28, security guard

“There’s lots of air pollution around here. Everyone has two or three cars; there should be a law limiting every household to one car. People can share rides, save money and clear the roads. There are lots of traffic jams around here starting at 8am – if your shift starts at 9am, you can’t get to work on time. The proposed charges are a good idea – they should even add some more charges as well. At the end of the day, too many cars mean too much pollution. It makes you sick.”

Mousudul Choudry, 52, small business owner

“Sadiq Khan is taking lots of action, and thinking about converting London’s buses and taxis to reduce pollution. There are so many cars, people and houses in London that it’s always going to be bad for our health. It is harmful, but they’re doing their best to reduce pollution. I appreciate that. I heard that after 2020 if any car wants to come into the city they have to pay extra. That’s a good idea. It will reduce the pollution. It would benefit everybody so I don’t mind paying.”

Manfreddy D’Afflita, 18, student

“I don’t live in Tower Hamlets, but I study here most days. I wasn’t aware of the pollution until now. I use public transport so I can’t change my behaviour to help it. It wouldn’t put me off studying here. I’m only going to live in London for a limited amount of years so I’m not as worried as maybe I should be.”

Yatin Patel, 39, shop owner

“I’ve been working in central London for 13 years, and the air is fine. It’s not like other countries like China – here it’s good. I’m from India and it’s not like the pollution over there. I have no complaints.”

Adela Alvarada, 22, café worker

“As soon as you start walking towards central London, you can really feel that the air is dirtier. I think the fewer cars we have here the better; the extra charges are a good idea. We’re so busy thinking about other things we don’t give it enough thought, but we’re actually breathing really bad air. The government should be doing more.”

Photos by Eve Watling.

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