At a meeting of Tower Hamlets Council last week, councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of an ambitious plan to clean up our air and help tackle climate change. The plan, set out in a council motion, lists actions that the council will take to tackle air pollution over the coming months and years.
The motion builds on a decision taken in March this year to declare a climate emergency in Tower Hamlets. The council has also committed to work towards being a carbon neutral borough by 2025.
The decision comes at a crucial time, with 40% of residents in Tower Hamlets living in areas that breach EU and government guidance on safe levels of air pollution and a recent scientific study finding that children in Tower Hamlets have up to 10% less lung capacity than normal.
The Mayor and councillors committed to develop a Tower Hamlets Carbon Neutral Plan, setting out how the council will meet its plan to become carbon neutral by 2025. The council also agreed to lobby government on the issue and produce a yearly ‘Climate Emergency Annual Report’.
This sits alongside the work the council is already undertaking to improve air quality, including the anti-idling campaign and 50 planned ‘school streets’ and ‘play streets’, which means areas around some schools have restrictions to traffic so pupils are not exposed to harmful emissions. The council is also investing in improving neighbourhoods through a Liveable Streets fund to make it easier to get about by foot, on a bike and on public transport, and installing 300 electric vehicle charging points across the borough. An air quality fund is also giving small pots of money to innovative groups in the community who want to do their bit.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “Tower Hamlets has some of the worst air pollution levels in the capital and tackling this needs a big commitment from individuals, the council and the government. The reality of the situation is that we face a climate emergency and no change is simply not an option.
“The plan we have agreed as a council is an ambitious blueprint to improve our air quality and play our part in tackling climate change. It builds on the good work we’re already doing in this area and sets out what further action we’ll be taking.”
Cllr Rachel Blake, Cabinet Member for Planning, Air Quality and Tackling Poverty, said: “Poor air quality is not only a health issue but it’s also a social justice issue. Deprived areas in London have a higher concentration of dangerous particles in the air than in any other deprived region in England and levels are 40% higher in deprived wards than non-deprived wards.
“Tower Hamlets has both some of the worst air pollution in London and some of the highest levels of deprivation, so it’s especially important we take urgent action.”
Cllr Amina Ali, Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “Air pollution is a major public health issue with hundreds of people estimated to die early each year as a result. Tackling this needs urgent action at a local, national and international level. The plan we’ve set out will be an important part of our work locally, and we’ll be lobbying the government to take much tougher action to clean up our air.”
Full text of the motion agreed:
Motion on air quality and climate change
Proposer: Cllr Rachel Blake
Seconder: Cllr Amina Ali
This Council notes:
- 40% of residents in Tower Hamlets live in areas that breach EU and government guidance on safe levels of air pollution and it’s the fifth worst borough in London for air pollution;
- A recent scientific study showed that children in Tower Hamlets have up to 10% less lung capacity than normal;
- As highlighted in the 2010 Marmot Review, individuals in deprived areas experience more adverse health effects at the same level of exposure compared to those from less deprived areas. This is, in part, because of a higher prevalence of underlying cardio-respiratory and other diseases, as well as greater exposure to air pollution as a result of homes being situated nearer to busy congested roads and with fewer green spaces;
- That Mayor John Biggs declared a climate emergency in March 2019 on behalf of the council, and announced the aim of becoming a zero-carbon council by 2025;
- That the Mayor has written to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to bring forward the ban on diesel cars and invest in a national scrappage scheme;
- That Mayor Biggs wrote to the Leader of Greenwich Council in June 2018 to express our opposition to cruise ship moorings without the use of on-shore power supply next to the Isle of Dogs;
- That nationally the Labour Party has announced that climate change would be a core part of the school curriculum under a Labour government;
- A recent poll showed that around 75% of UK adults believe climate change to be the biggest crisis facing humanity today.
This Council further notes the council’s ongoing work to tackle poor air quality, including:
- The Breathe Clean campaign, launched in 2018, to tackle air pollution across Tower Hamlets and raise awareness about what can be done locally to improve air quality and reduce risk to residents’ health;
- The anti-idling campaign, with a particular focus on drivers who idle outside schools;
- 50 planned ‘school streets’ and ‘play streets’, with some roads closed off to improve air quality around schools;
- 2,800 trees have been planted across Tower Hamlets over the course of the last year;
- Significant investment in a Liveable Streets fund to make it easier to get about by foot, on a bike and on public transport;
- Continuing to consult local people on the installation of secure residents’ Cycle Parking Hangars, as well as on street visitor cycle parking and developing a proposal for a new Secure Cycle Hub for around 100 cycles at Whitechapel Station;
- The aim to install 300 electric vehicle charging points across the borough;
- The LED street light replacement programme is continuing and at the moment 63% of lights in the borough have already been replaced with LEDs;
- Continuing to review the council’s investment decisions, including exploring all opportunities to divest our pension fund investments, noting that the LBTH Pension Fund has transferred a significant proportion of its investment in equities into Low Carbon funds;
- The Council has removed single use plastic cups from its main buildings and is exploring how to remove other single use plastics, such as plastic drinks bottles in vending machines;
- An Air Quality Fund, providing a total of £200,000 funding to innovative groups in the community who want to do their bit to tackle air pollution;
- Tower Hamlets have provisionally agreed to invest £3 million into upgrading the CCTV system and in light of this, we have recently conducted a review of the Council’s CCTV network, which included looking at the locations of CCTV in relation to fly-tipping and the evidence base for CCTV’s effectiveness in environmental crimes;
- Investment in new waste fleet, reducing emissions.
This Council believes:
- We face a climate emergency and need to take immediate action at a local, national and international level;
- That air quality is not only a health issue but also a social justice issue. Deprived areas in the London region have a higher concentration of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) than in any other deprived region in England, levels are 40% higher in deprived wards than non-deprived wards;
- That the ban on diesel cars planned for 2040 should be brought forward to 2030;
- That the council should work with companies and individuals, including ice cream van owners, to encourage the switch to cleaner forms of transport;
- That the council should review its own vehicle fleet;
- That although the Council would always look to locate new schools away from major roads, where new sites are close to main roads serious consideration must be given to the design and layout of the school to reduce the effect, including the location of the building, mechanical ventilation and using vegetation to assist with improving air quality;
- That the Government must support those who rely on cars for family or employment reasons by providing financial help to make the switch from more polluting cars to cleaner vehicles and other forms of transport, as well as investing in a national diesel scrappage scheme.
This Council resolves:
- To support the declaration of a climate emergency through a formal resolution of the council and to campaign at the local, London-wide and national level to draw attention to issue and bring about changes at all levels of government;
- To pledge to develop a Tower Hamlets Carbon Neutral Plan, detailing how the Council’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2025 will be achieved – and requests that this Tower Hamlets Carbon Neutral Plan is brought to Full Council for approval;
- To support calls for the ban on diesel cars to be brought forward to 2030 and the introduction of a national scrappage scheme;
- To deliver our Air Quality Action Plan;
- To pledge to produce each year between now and 2030 a Tower Hamlets Climate Emergency Annual Report, detailing the Council’s progress against the Tower Hamlets Carbon Neutral Plan – which will enable members, residents and other local stakeholders to hold the Council to account for delivery of this pledge;
- To work with the community to reduce air pollution through small changes to travel plans and to ask our partner organisations to make clear commitments to dealing with this crisis;
- To deliver a programme of community climate change engagement to build awareness, support and empower BAME Groups to engage with the projects around climate change.
- To campaign for targeted measures to reduce air pollution in our worst affected areas such as Blackwall Tunnel, Bow Roundabout, Aldgate and Whitechapel;
- To work with neighbouring authorities through our successful Zero Emissions Network to expand support to small businesses to reduce their emissions;
- To investigate zero emissions ice cream vans in our parks and work with neighbouring authorities on regulations to restrict emissions from fossil fuel ice cream vans.