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Bonfires and wood burning stoves could be banned in Croydon

PostPosted: Tue Feb 14, 2017 8:43 pm
by Wilberforce
Bonfires and wood burning stoves could be banned in Croydon

By Tom_Matthews | Posted: February 10, 2017

Air pollution is contributing to the deaths of 155 people in Croydon a year

Banning bonfires, restrictions on wood burning stoves and patrols to fine motorists with idling engines are all being considered as measures to tackle Croydon's air pollution problem - which is claiming the lives of 155 of the borough's residents every year.

The "invisible" health epidemic is such a problem that Croydon is among the worst 25 per cent of local authorities in the country when it comes to pollution-related deaths.

If particulate air pollution was eliminated, it would boost life expectancy in the borough by more years than ending passive smoking or road traffic collisions, Croydon Council's scrutiny committee was told last week.

The estimated economic impact of air pollution nationwide is between £9 billion and £19 billion - for comparison obesity is estimated to have a £10 billion impact.

As well as high levels of particulates - small particles in the air - many of the borough's main roads regularly exceed safe levels of nitrogen dioxide - a toxic gas produced mainly in internal combustion engines.

Andrea Lee, a healthy air campaigner with Client Earth, a body which successfully sued the Government into taking better and swifter action to tackle air pollution, said that air pollution was a "hidden public health crisis".

"We're talking about pollutants that are very difficult to see and so very difficult for people to believe," she said.

"We're talking about particulate matter, particles that are in the air that can be a fifth of the width of a human hair, and also nitrogen dioxide, which is a gas.

"Despite the fact we can't see them, it doesn't mean it's not impacting us and the health impacts have been well researched.

"Last year the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of [Paediatrics and] Child Health created a report that outlined how air quality and pollution is impacting on our health from the womb to old age.

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"It's causing things like premature births, causing children to grow up with smaller lungs, which will affect them into old age, and it's also helping trigger heart attacks, asthma attacks - increasing the risk of hospitalisation and death, unfortunately."

This year, the council will draw up its Air Quality Action Plan governing the next five years. As well as a potential total ban on bonfires and wood burning stoves, the council could step up patrols with the power to fine drivers who do not switch off their idling engines, and take a range of measures to encourage people to use clean transport.

The borough's Clean Air Act smoke control zone, which forbids the burning of certain solid fuels in stoves could also be extended to cover the entirety of Croydon. At the moment it only contains areas north of Purley.

Councillor Sean Fitzsimons, chairman of the scrutiny committee, highlighted the issue of bonfires and wood burning stoves - especially residents who take action against the council to enforce their right to use one - as one the council needs to take action on.

Statistics from King's College London research show that about 10 per cent of all winter pollution in London comes from burnt wood.

"We cannot hold back," he said. "Personally, the gall of anyone who is polluting because they've got this nice - what they consider 'eco' - wood burning stove, that is still putting out more particulates than it should, to take action against the council, I just think they should be publicly shamed because it affects people's health."

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Cllr Fitzsimons, who will make recommendations that the council's cabinet may follow in due course, said he was in favour of a complete ban on bonfires. At the moment, a range of options from part-time to full bans are being considered.

He said: "The more I've read on this, obviously it excludes things like Guy Fawkes and Diwali and a couple of other events, I really can't see when we have a health emergency that's worse or greater than obesity or passive smoking that we can allow passive smoking via a bonfire."

When it comes to nitrogen dioxide, about 57 per cent of nitrogen dioxide levels in the borough come from road traffic, while 29 per cent is churned out by residential and commercial gas boilers.

And, surprisingly, experts have shown that drivers - especially while stuck in traffic jams - are at a higher risk of exposure to nitrogen dioxide than pedestrians or cyclists.

Hot spots for nitrogen dioxide in Croydon include Purley Way, Wellesley Road, London Road, Thornton Heath High Street and Purley Cross.

Linda Johnson, Croydon Council's pollution team manager, said poor air quality disproportionately affects those living in more deprived areas.

"Those living in more deprived areas are exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution, often because their homes and residences are situated next to roads with higher concentrations of emissions," she said.

"For instance, Norbury has the highest air pollution levels and is also one of the poorest parts of the borough."

And though modern cars have engine cut outs designed to stop emissions in stationary traffic, many drivers are keeping their foot on the accelerator as they are uncomfortable with the idea of the engine switching off.

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Councils have the power to fine motorists who do not turn off their engines in stationary traffic £20.

But Mrs Johnson said that currently, due to a lack of resources, it was difficult to enforce those rules.

Work is, however, being done with private hire vehicles in an effort to educate their drivers to switch off their idling engines while waiting for passengers.

One of the measures due to be brought in by the Mayor of London to tackle traffic pollution is to bring in a new Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London - inside which all vehicles must meet low emissions standards or face a daily charge.

Though Croydon is not currently proposed to fall within that zone - it will end at the South Circular - buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles will likely have to meet ultra-low emissions standards in a zone throughout London by 2020.

Transport for London is also being told to retrofit its buses with chemical kits that filter emissions.

Several bus routes are being converted to electric-only - such as the 312 from South Croydon to Norwood Junction - while TfL is also trialing hydrogen-powered buses.

Stuart King, the council's cabinet member for transport and environment, said the council should join with Mayor Sadiq Khan in lobbying the Government for three main changes to improve air quality.

As well as a new Clean Air Act - the legislation that governs much of what can or can't be burnt in certain zones throughout the country which dates back to the 1950s - he said the council should support the Mayor's call for a national diesel scrappage scheme.

Diesel engines emit much higher levels of nitrogen dioxide than equivalent petrol engines.

Cllr King added: "Thirdly, I think vehicle excise duty continues to incentivise the purchase of diesel cars and I think the Treasury need to look at that, because as long as we're making it financially more advantageous to buy diesel then we're going to continue to put vehicles on the road that are a part of the problem and not part of the solution."

More also needs to be done so that the public are made aware of the impact using their cars - or wood burning stoves - has during high air pollution events - such as the smog which hit London at the end of January.

Cllr Fitzsimons said: "Maybe the boroughs should work with the Mayor [of London] to promote voluntary schemes [such as] leave your car at home on bad air days.

"Just like we should also have proposals to tell those middle class people who are having a Hygge lifestyle of sitting in front of a Scandinavian wood burning stove, the Mayor should be saying to those people, I can't legally stop you [from using it] today, but if you're a good neighbour you should not."

Croydon Council has already drawn up a plan to try to minimise the heavy impact an estimated 200 heavy goods deliveries a day to the planned Westfield/Hammerson development is likely to have on air quality.

Also, rather than receiving stationery deliveries to its Bernard Weatherill House headquarters every day, the authority now only gets such deliveries twice a week in a bid to reduce emissions.

The council is due to hold an air quality summit on March 27, while a draft of the council's Air Quality Action Plan is due to be presented to the council's cabinet at the end of April.

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