How clean is Croydon’s air?

By - Tuesday 9th September, 2014

Sean Creighton takes a deep breath and examines what’s in all our lungs

Air quality monitoring station, London Road, Norbury.
Photo author’s own.

The European Commission is taking legal action against Britain for failure to comply with the requirements to reduce air pollution. Naturally the problem is worst in London, the nation’s largest conurbation.

The office of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has strenuously defended the city’s record on air pollution, insisting that ours is far from the worst polluted city, despite data showing that nitrogen dioxide (NOx) levels have been higher here than anywhere else yet recorded.

According to recent research, 34% of Londoners are dissatisfied with air quality.If we use the 34% dissatisfaction rate as a base figure across Croydon, it can be safely assumed that a higher percentage are dissatisfied with air quality along London Road. The readings for NOx levels along the Norbury stretch are the highest in the borough.

This is partly because the narrowness of London Road acts as a trap, preventing pollutants being carried away quickly by the wind. In the town centre, the George Street monitoring station recorded the annual mean NOx level for 2013 exceeding air quality objective by nearly 25%.

In a letter in the London Evening Standard (21st August 2014), Ray Woodford of Lewisham People Before Profit implies that property developments contribute to poor air quality. “The constant development of south London must not be allowed unless air monitors (which cost £700) are installed before works start. It seems health and wellbeing can’t get in the way of the next big skyscraper or offshore property deal. Politicians would do well not to ignore this.”

A number of planned developments will have a detrimental impact on Croydon’s air quality

Croydon Council recognises the problem. It has an Air Quality Action Plan for 2012-2017. An annual review report is published. The most recent, published in May last year, contains an appendix of major planning permissions granted in 2012. It identifies developments in the following locations as potentially having an impact on air quality and requiring an air quality assessment: the Whitgift Centre, Russell Hill Road, Purley, Purley Way, St. Georges House (formerly the Nestlé building), Park Lane and Cane Hill Hospital, Brighton Road.

A major development ‘is considered as ten or more units in residential developments and other uses of over 1000 square metres of floor space or site area. Many involve demolition of existing buildings. And of course there have been further approvals of more demolitions and new constructions since.

To Croydon Council’s credit, it has taken steps to address the problem of pollution

Each development’s air quality assessment looks at the major influences on air quality throughout the demolition and construction works. Unfortunately there are no actual estimations of pollutants from each demolition site. The emphasis is on minimising the potential effects at source through appropriate site management and control practices, including controls on vehicle movements.

It is to the council’s credit that as part of these assessments it has piloted Construction Logistics Plans (CLPs) and is the first borough in London to require their submission as a planning approval condition. The results of the CLP for Bernard Weatherill House show that by following it there were 26% fewer vehicle or delivery or collection visits to the site, resulting in less congestion, lower carbon dioxide emissions, fewer particles and less NOx.

Croydon is to pilot dust suppressant technology

The council also monitors dust prior to the commencement of works and during demolition and construction. Monitoring equipment will be located in central Croydon, mainly around residential properties. A dust suppressant will be piloted which leaves a sticky substance on the road. Dust will stick to this, then be cleaned away at the end of each day.

All developers and their contractors are expected to comply with their CLP and there will be an officer monitoring all the sites with a plan and dealing with any problems that occur.

There are now around 36 proposed developments in central Croydon. The council is therefore producing a Town Centre Construction Logistics Zone Plan (TCCLZP) to provide a framework within in which the individual CLPs will sit and to which developers and contractors will be expected to commit their active support. The proposed TCCLZP is therefore a welcome initiative.

New air quality projects can be introduced and be reported on in the annual review and assessment reports under the 2012-17 Air Quality Plan. However, given the major changes since it was drawn up (continuing development proposals in the town centre and planning approval for the Beddington Lane incinerator in Sutton) there should be political scrutiny of the work under the plan.

We should monitor where pollutants from the Beddington Lane incinerator end up

Concerns about the incinerator include the risks of increased pollutants from the burning process and the lorries and dustcarts bringing waste to the site.

There is a strong case for monitoring key places in Croydon where the winds are most likely to blow the pollutants. The findings can be fed to Sutton Council. A Incinerator Logistics Plan will also be submitted to Sutton Council. Presumably this plan will first of all be approved by the Joint Waste Authority Committee upon which Croydon is represented. If so, then adequate time needs to be allowed for officers to assess it and brief the various council representatives on it. Given its opposition to the incinerator, Croydon Council should insist that the draft plan be considered by its Scrutiny Committee before submission to the Joint Committee.

There are many things that individuals can do to help improve air quality. Croydon Council is a partner in the Love Clean Air South London website. It’s well worth taking a look. You can also read the 2012 Air Quality Progress Report here and find out more about the Clean Air In London campaign here.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

More Posts - Website

  • Anne Giles

    Interesting. I have never found the air a problem in Croydon, yet in certain cities in Spain (particularly Madrid) I have felt very asthmatic.

  • smogbad

    Croydon already has a serious problem it’s just that its conveniently covered up in a number of ways.The planning permissions issue has ruthlessly used the divided split responsibilities.
    Here is a typical and dangerous example:

    1.The ONS has found deveral wards in Croydon around the Purley Way and Waddon areas to have STATISTICALLY HIGH (technical term,not to be confused with journalistic rhetoric) infant mortalities.

    2.Sutton and Viridor has nothing to do with Croydon,so they didn’t use those statistics to influence their planning decision.

    3.See the graphgic of what results!

    4.Boris and central government have deliberately minimised current and future London pollution which will result from planned population and traffic increases.See the REAL issues in:
    this represents the situation now,not 2020,because of the way manufacturers of diesel engines have presented their figures,and Boris has used his computer models to distort real world measurements (there is extensive backing for this from the technical press).

  • Adam KM

    never mind Croydon’s air how about the left-quisling-liberal rape of Croydon, particularly Croydon North-

  • Thomas Darby

    ‘According to recent research, 34% of Londoners are dissatisfied with air quality.If we use the 34% dissatisfaction rate as a base figure across Croydon, it can be safely assumed that a higher percentage are dissatisfied with air quality along London Road.’

    -I think it is safe to say that we, on the outskirts will not poll the same as those living in the centre of London. I used to live in Deptford (Zone 2) and Streatham (Zone 3/4) and they were a million times worse.

    West Croydon could definitely do with more out door spaces and it is rather insane to be building homes on roundabouts as is happening at the moment -epecially when they then build balconies-who would want to go out there?

    The tram system is the most intelligent thing Croydon has ever done in terms of addressing pollution (as well as congestion) and other parts of London should be copying us.