What has been done for the Greenwich Low Emission Neighbourhood?
April 7, 2019
EGRA members with good memories will remember that nearly three years ago the Council received
£5m from the Mayor's Office to set up a Low Emission Neighbourhood in Greenwich covering the
riverside area from Blackwall Lane to Deptford Creek. The rationale was to try to improve the
notoriously poor air quality which regularly exceeds WHO maximum safe levels of nitrogen oxides and particulates. Many of us hoped to see some ambitious and pioneering projects which would tackle the problem at different levels.
There's no argument that the area is an ideal test bed. Despite creative boundary drawing to exclude the planned cruise ship terminal at Enderby Wharf from the LEN, it includes almost every polluting source imaginable - not just clogged roads but also many construction sites; Greenwich Generating Station with its obsolete generators; unregulated river traffic with moored cruise ships at New Capital Quay; lots of old houses with open fires – all bookended by a number of busy aggregates sites. And all ripe for some serious initiatives to reduce the air pollution created by this noxious cocktail of pollutants.
So, what's happened since the LEN was set up? Frankly, not much. We've seen an electric bike rental scheme and a cargo bike at Drings butchers in Royal Hill. Otherwise, we're stuck in an endless Groundhog Day of consultation about three pocket parks along Trafalgar Road (now joined by a new parklet at the junction of Creek Road and Norman Road) – none of which address the air quality issue except in the most marginal way and none of which has been started. Ironically, the only other significant outcome has been the disappearance of the bike parking on Trafalgar Road.
The Council has used some of the money on long-overdue cosmetic changes along Trafalgar Road with new paving and raised junctions, though how these relate to improving air quality is unclear. Without significant traffic management measures to control access to the popular rat-runs and clear pedestrian priority, the continuous paving has been poorly received by parents with young children and those with vision problems.
So what could and should we be doing? A good starting point would have been some signage so
residents and visitors know the LEN exists. How about closing some of the notorious rat-runs and
converting them into cycleways? What about serious anti-idling enforcement especially for construction traffic and outside schools? There doesn't appear to be any debate about licensing temporary events that require extensive use of portable diesel generators either.
Then there is the new difficulty of enforcing the 1956 Clean Air Act and reminding residents that you
cannot burn wood and non-smokeless coal in an open fire. Wood and coal particulates are now estimated to make up 10% of London's winter air pollution. Reminding our local B&Q and Wickes that they shouldn't be selling non-smokeless fuel would be helpful too.
Maybe Greenwich Council could have a meaningful dialogue with the Port of London Authority about
shipping, particularly moored cruise ships using their engines off New Capital Quay. Instead a PLA
spokesman claimed at their last public meeting that Greenwich Council were blocking the PLA's long-
overdue attempts to install air quality monitoring equipment near Greenwich Ship Tier.
What is the future of Greenwich Generating Station with its ancient diesel-ignition generators which put a plume of brown smoke into the sky every afternoon? It doesn't tally with the image of public
transport as the green alternative. Can we encourage more aggregates companies to enclose their raw materials as Hanson are currently doing? Wind blown sand and dust are important elements in our polluted air and combine with vehicle exhaust fumes to produce a toxic compound.
This is by no means exhaustive but it demonstrates the range of issues we should expect to be
considered if a Low Emission Neighbourhood is going to have any validity at all. Although traffic remains the primary problem it is far from the only one. Some of the possible remedies are relatively cheap and easy to implement too and some only require proper enforcement of existing laws.
But we need to get a move on as poor air quality is now calculated to cause 9,400 premature deaths per year in London alone. And we also need to get the Council to stop patting themselves on the back and talking about rolling out this non-scheme across the borough while at the same time adding massive amounts of extra pollution to the area with Ikea and Silvertown Tunnel.
Maybe EGRA members would like to email their Ward Councillors, particularly Denise Scott-McDonald, Peninsula Ward Councillor and Cabinet member with responsibility for air quality, and ask them whether the LEN represents a worthwhile use of public money and an honest attempt to improve the air we breathe?
And EGRA would like to ensure that this issue gets raised regularly at Council meetings. Anyone can submit a question for the monthly full Council meeting which will get a written response from the
appropriate Councillor. You then have the opportunity to ask a supplementary question at the meeting. EGRA Executive Committee members will be happy to assist anyone who wants to get involved in this important issue. Contact info@egra.London for more information.