Khan calls Lewisham emissions “health crisis” as council cuts air quality funding

Lewisham traffic in 2018 Pic: Parisa Borghei

As Lewisham Council prepares to close its Strategic Air Quality programme,  Sadiq Khan has called the borough’s air pollution a “health crisis”.

On a visit to New Cross, the Mayor of London said “councils need to recognise this – what we need is action.”

Khan was in the borough to launch a new low-emission bus zone now running from Camberwell to New Cross through Peckham High Street, cleaning up 380 buses on 20 routes.

It is the twelfth zone to be launched in London, and part of Khan’s plan to open five more this month “to tackle London’s lethal air.”

Last year, it was discovered that Lewisham’s Particulate Matter levels – called PM2.5 levels – were as high as 150 micrograms per cubic metre, whilst the recommended amount is 25; this year they are at 110.

Khan also said: “I am impressed by policies the council of Lewisham have taken, for example working with schools to stop idling vehicles and other policies being done to help walking and cycling.”

The comments come as Lewisham Council prepares to close its Strategic Air Quality programme due to budget cuts to services over the next two years.

The programme spends money on air quality campaigns like the Lewisham Air app, which launched in March. The app alerts users to the latest news about Lewisham’s air conditions.

Lewisham Council is proposing to cut all non-statutory services for air pollution from 2020-2021 to save £60,000; the same amount of money the programme needs in staff costs to operate.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “Improving air quality in our borough remains one of our top priorities. However, due to the cuts imposed on us by central government, we are having to realign our funding of publicity and campaigns work around the issue. Part of this realignment is to move the public engagement of air quality to Public Health as the team are best placed to provide health focused engagement with the public.”

“From 2020, we will not be funding the Strategic Air Quality programme. This £60,000 cut will affect much of the strategic and engagement functions currently being provided by the council. However, it will not affect the statutory and regulatory functions around air quality such as our work to monitor the levels of pollution in the air across the borough.”

The Mayor stressed the fact that “councils are having to make tough decisions not because they want to but because they are being made to.”

He said: “I am really concerned that as a response of government cuts, councils can’t do the things that they want to do. The government needs to support our councils to do a better job and support City Hall to do a better job.”

Khan met with Deptford Surgery GP Dr Rachel Hadden before launching the zone.

Hadden welcomed the change to London’s transport, and said there were higher instances of lung disease and asthma in Deptford patients due to air pollution.

She said: “Children that live in highly polluted areas – which London is one – will grow up with smaller lungs, which may affect their development in other ways that is not yet fully understood. Those children may or may not develop asthma and may suffer smaller lungs as a result of the pollution.”

EastLondonLines recently reported on links between emissions in highly polluted areas and decreased lung capacity in children in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

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