E-hustings on Air Pollution for the Gospel Oak by-election: Press Release

Camden Air Action is a rapidly growing group of Camden residents concerned about the poor quality of the air in the borough.  Since January 2016 we have been working with Camden’s schools, businesses and Council to measure air pollution, to raise awareness of the extent of the problem, and to take practical action to improve the situation.  We are a non-partisan group, and our members come from all across the political spectrum.

Air pollution in both London and Camden are at dangerous and illegal levels that threaten the health of children in particular and Camden Air Action believes we need local Councillors who understand the issues and are prepared to take action to change this: by listening to what local people want, by supporting practical local solutions for cleaning up the air at local level and by lobbying for the necessary resources and funding to be allocated at all levels of Government.

Camden Air Action asked all five candidates in the Gospel Oak by-election to respond to six questions on air pollution in Camden.

All five candidates were quick to respond and gave well-considered and detailed answers. Whatever your opinion of their responses, air quality is clearly a high priority in the Gospel Oak by-election and we look forward to Thursday’s winner putting their good intentions into action!

The candidates are Marcus Boyland (Labour), Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat), Giles Game (UKIP), Marx de Morais (Conservative) and Dee Searle (Green), who has a long-standing history of air quality campaigning in Camden.

Air campaigner Rachel Wrangham said ‘We are delighted that all five candidates responded to our poll.  This shows just what an important issue air pollution is in Gospel Oak ward and across the borough.’

Here are some of our top observations. Full responses are worth a read and are available here.

There was universal support for the Ultra Low Emissions Zone proposed by Mayor Sadiq Khan.
However, the feeling was that it could go further still, with all candidates calling for faster and more radical implementation. Boyland (L) Searle (G) went on to call for diesel to be banned altogether in London.

All five agreed that the surcharge imposed by Westminster on visitor parking of diesel cars should be adopted in Camden.

All candidates were keen to take urgent action on poor air quality at Gospel Oak Schools (illegal at 4 out of 5 GO primary schools).
Boyland (L) summarised the solution succinctly, saying “We need fewer dirty vehicles doing fewer miles”, and candidates widely applauded and sought to further roll out the council’s Healthy School Streets initiative piloted in Macklin Street, anti-idling campaigns, and traffic management changes to keep vehicles away from schools.
In addition to these initiatives, Searle (Green) specifically commended the Grafton Road ‘tidal’ closure, which prohibits south-bound traffic at the morning peak, and north-bound traffic in the evenings, a change that has brought Carlton School has the best air quality in the ward, according to TfL and CAA figures.  She proposes a similar scheme on Gordon House/Mansfield Road, noting that “these schemes may seem ambitious and potentially disruptive for through traffic but they are doable and are a step we should take if we are serious about the health and quality of life of our children and families”
Meanwhile de Morais (C) proposed electric-only bus routes past schools, as well as the introduction of high-quality air filtration systems where problems persist.Candidates were divided on electric cars.

Candidates were divided on electric cars.
Crosher (LD), de Morais (C), and Boyland (L) all promised to increase electric car charging options for residents. Crosher (LD) was extremely ambitious, aiming for 25% of all public parking spaces to be equipped with charging points by the end of 2018, and a streamlining of the process by which residents can apply to use their own domestic power supply to charge their vehicles.
However, whilst there is much to commend electric cars, Searle (Green) highlighted the problem of cost, noting that currently, the price of an e-car is beyond the reach of many residents.  She pledged her support for electric car clubs and promised to aim for 4 electric car club charging bays by April 2018.  She also pointed out that e-cars do not encourage the needed shift away from motor transport towards walking and cycling. On a different note, UKIP’s candidate Giles Game expressed doubts about their technology, commenting that “cluttering every pavement in sight with charging points” would not deal with continuing technological challenges with e-cars.

Candidates also had different levels of ambition on improving transport options in the ward.
Boyland (L) said that the number of car journeys was falling, but “nowhere near fast enough”, and along with Searle (G) prioritised the reduction in emissions from road transport. de Morais (C) joined them in calling for improvements to walking and cycling facilities. Crosher (LD) was keen to work towards a new east-west bus route linking Swiss Cottage with Tufnell Park, and a new Overground station on Junction Road, whereas Searle (G) pledged to consult local residents and work with them to achieve what they felt was most important for the community.

Camden’s Clean Air Action Plan came in for sustained criticism from four candidates.
Whilst Boyland (L) highlighted his commitment to areas of the existing plan and is “absolutely prepared to work in partnership with local groups and lobby for the best possible outcome’, Crosher (LD) and de Morais (C) noted the wealth of ideas but concluded that “the council has failed to turn ideas into a measurable plan with timescales for delivery” (Crosher,LD).
Game (UKIP) suggested that the council should concentrate its efforts ‘to improve traffic flow, not impede it”. He and de Morais (C) both concluded that Camden’s role in improving air quality “is necessarily limited” (de Morais, C) and “run[s] the risk of squandering borough-level time and resources over matters which no local authority has the ability to control” (Game, UKIP).
Finally, Dee Searle (G), didn’t mince her words, calling the plan ‘feeble and complacent’ and proposed a large number of measures that the Council could implement, including a workplace parking levy, traffic calming measures to reduce rat running, more and safer routes for cycling and walking, and increased greening, which she feels would fulfil the aims of a true Clean Air Action Plan.

Camden Air Action member Noémi Drew said ‘The Gospel Oak by-election candidates all rose to the challenge of answering some tricky questions and gave well considered, interesting and often ambitious responses. It’s incredibly encouraging to the Clean Air agenda as part of the mainstream debate and I am feeling excited and positive about the challenges ahead.’

Questions to candidates:

  1. What is your view of the Mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone?
  2. What do you consider the most important areas of work in Camden Council’s agreed Clean Air Action Plan and what action will you take to ensure Camden Council plays its part in improving air in the borough?
  3. The uptake of electric cars is currently hampered by a lack of on-road charging points (just 1 in Gospel Oak ward).  Charging points should be provided across the ward, located on pavement build-outs, so as not to reduce space for pedestrians/introduce trip hazards.  What is your target for electric car charging points in Gospel Oak by May 2018?
  4. Car ownership in Gospel Oak is very slightly higher than the average for Camden (40.4%, 2011 census).  Access to public transport (PTAL score) is relatively poor.  How will you work to improve transport options for local residents, whilst also reducing fossil-fuelled car ownership and car journeys?
  5. Camden Council imposes a diesel surcharge on residents’ parking permits of £53.05 p.a.  However, unlike Westminster, there is no surcharge for visitors.  Please outline your proposals for discouraging the use of diesel vehicles by both residents and visitors to the borough.
  6. According to recent TfL modelling, air quality at 4 out of 5 primary schools in Gospel Oak is illegal, and of a quality that impairs lung development and can lead to life-long health impacts:
    School NO2 level μg/m3
    St Dominic’s Catholic Primary 45.9
    Fleet Primary 47.0
    Gospel Oak 41.9
    La Petite Ecole Bilingue 40.2
    Carlton Primary 38.5

    What concrete actions will you be lobbying for, that will improve the air these young children breathe?

For further information please contact:
Rachel Wrangham on   07778 539165 or   r.wrangham@gmail.com
Pamela Edwards on   07821 492777 or   pje.climateaction@gmail.com