Monday 10 December 2018

Environment Monday - Children should not have to breath toxic air in the Borough of Barnet

Every Monday, the Barnet Eye features a special feature on the local environment. We believe that the people of Barnet are being let down by our local politicians, who need to step up and start to seriously start addressing the many issues which are blighting the lives of local residents. Today we look at air quality in the Borough.

Traffic Mayhem on the North Circular
Lets start with a statistic. According to the Greater London Authority, 9,000 people a year die due to poor air quality. That is three times more every year than died during the troubles in Norther Ireland. It is a truly shocking statistic and the worst aspect is that it is completely avoidable. Whilst this cannot be addressed in a single day, the technology exists to completely eradicated this problem within 7-10 years in London. It may (or may not) come as a surprise to learn that Barnet Council has an action plan to address these issues ( Air Quality Action Plan 2017 – 2022).

Sadly, this is a complete joke. Let me do a little run through their (in)action plan. My comments are in Red Italics. One can only conclude that the current administration of Barnet council either have not read their own policies, or they couldn't give a stuff about the effects their inaction has on local people, especially school children.

Action 1 Minimise dust emissions from construction sites.
This action refers to dust emissions.  Environmental Health responds to dust nuisance complaints from residents as part of its duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  Environmental Health also enforces dust emissions from other construction plant under the Environmental Permitting Regulations, for instance concrete crushing machines.  Construction method statements required as a planning condition ensure dust is dampened down on building sites.

Anyone who lives in Mill Hill and has seen the demolition of the National Institute for medical research will know that this is an absolute joke. In July, we wrote a blog that comprehensively proved that dust control was completely inadequate. There is a primary school less than 100 yards from the site. It is simply scandalous that the Council cannot be bothered to enforce their legal obligations or follow their own action plan. Have a look at this video that we made. No enforcement action at all was taken, despite our video conclusively proving that dust suppression was totally inadequate. NIMR is one of the largest sites in Barnet. Sadly this is being repeated at sites across the Borough

Action 2 Enforce Non Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) air quality policies.
This is a key element of the London Mayor’s air quality strategy and aims to reduce tailpipe emissions from vehicles on construction sites.  All Non Road Mobile Machinery of net power between 37kW and 560kW must meet at least Stage IIIA of EU Directive 97/68/EC and its amendments.  The London Borough of Barnet is leading on a joint project with the London Boroughs of Haringey, Waltham Forest and Enfield to employ a shared Enforcement Officer for dust and NRMM emissions on construction sites.  A grant of £180,000 over three years has been awarded for the project from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund.

Given the dust generated by the demolition, it is clear that the grant of £180,000 has been wasted. I wonder what Mr Bard, who was featured in our video will think of his taxes being spent in this way

Action 3 Enforcing Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant and biomass air quality policies.
Environmental Health require detailed air quality dispersion modelling assessments of proposed CHP and biomass plant from applicants, to ensure they meet the criteria required by the GLA.  Where the criteria cannot be met then developments will be refused on air quality grounds.  This is written into the Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance on Sustainable Design and Construction.

Given that Barnet Council has abandoned food collections and now simply sends all compostable waste for incineration, it is 100% clear that this is a pledge that they have zero interest in. 

Action 4 Enforcing Air Quality Neutral Policies.
The Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for sustainable design and construction requires air quality assessments to be carried out for certain developments.  These developments may be in an area of existing poor air quality, or could result in a decrease in air quality due to their size.  Environmental Health review the assessments and ensure that exposure to poor air quality is minimised through mitigation measures.  Where this is not possible, or there is an unacceptable increase in pollution levels, Environmental Health will recommend refusal of a planning application on air quality grounds. Highways also monitor Sustainable Travel Plans for new Developments in accordance with Regional Enterprise Performance indicator PITD03

There are many huge schemes across Barnet in the Pipeline. The Brent Cross Scheme will add 29,000 cars a day to the already polluted North Circular road. Whilst there is clearly a need for more housing, there is little in the plan to improve public transport. The council points to the new Thameslink Station, but any user of this service will know that the rushhour trains are often full by the time they leave Mill Hill, let alone by the time they get to Brent Cross. We believe that the Council should start exporing light rail options for the busiest traffic corridors. The biggest problem in Barnet is radial journeys. There are several disused rail lines in Barnet that could either be adapted as dedicated cycle ways or light rail lines. Other corridors that could be adapted should be identified and prioritised, with developers picking up the tab.

Action 5 Increase the planting of green barriers and vegetation.
Belts of vegetation along roads can reduce the amount of air pollution that people behind it are exposed to.  They consist of hedges between a road and pavement or cycle track. Urban vegetation is the sum of parks and smaller green patches within the city such as green walls made of ivy and green roofing.  Vegetation has the ability to clean the air by filtering out pollutants.
The 2013 to 2016 Mayor’s Air Quality Fund enabled the planting of 221 nitrogen dioxide reducing trees on the Borough’s streets.  LIP funding enabled the planting of a 40m long ivy green-screen to
remove air pollutants from a school playground adjoining the A41.  Greening has a key part to play in removing air pollution.  Environmental Health will continue to apply for funding for similar schemes. 
Planning requirements for new developments also act to ensure green spaces are not lost but enhanced. 
 Future improvements from the Borough’s Open Spaces and new Tree Strategy:
• committing to a program that involves a net gain in trees across the borough 
• strengthening the quality of the landscape (through planting avenues, tree groups, park boundaries and woodlands) 
• addressing urban warming and reducing pollution (tree planting concentrated in the south of the borough where it is needed most) 
• addressing NO2 (tree planting next to major roads) from 2016

This is something that The Barnet Eye has long been a supporter of. Sadly, as with most things in Barnet Council, there is simply no vision or innovation. A huge number of people in Barnet would love to contribute to this project. Barnet could and should lead the world here. Local residents, working as individuals and through Churches, Mosques, Synagogues or in association with funeral directors etc, should be encouraged to plant trees and shrub beds as memorials to beloved friends and relatives. I would love to see the council set up a memorial site, where residents could have a tree planted and have a little biography as a permanent memorial to residents who have passed away. This should be self funding. I for one, would love to plant trees to remember my parents who lived for decades in the Borough, and made a huge contribution to civic life. We should identify the sites and then appeal to the local community to make it happen. It is a win/win. 

Action 6 Ensuring that Smoke Control Areas are enforced.
The Council has a statutory duty under the Clean Air Act 1993 to prevent dark smoke from chimneys.  This involves responding to complaints about residential chimneys, providing advice on approved appliances and fuels, and taking action where necessary.  The majority of the London Borough of Barnet is a designated Smoke Control Area.  As part of the 2014-2016 Air Quality Champion project, leaflets about Smoke Control were distributed to local businesses.  These included restaurants using charcoal, and businesses selling wood burning stoves.  This work will continue.

I am quite interested to read about this leaflet, stating that "leaflets were distributed to businesses". I wonder which businesses received the leaflet and how much this cost. I would guess that outside of the restaurant and garden centre trade, virtually no business does anything in Barnet that involves burning coal/charcoal. The biggest nuisance for most residents in terms of smoke are bonfires in residential areas, burning garden waste. In recent years, this has nearly been eradicated by the green bins. Now Barnet Council wants to charge residents £50 for a green bin, so it is likely that we will see a return of the familiar smell of buring leaves and wood at the weekend. In short, there is no joined up thinking at all. It is typical of Barnet Council to be looking both ways at the same time, blaming business and residents, whilst making policy decisions that make matters worse. 

Action 7 Brief Director of Public Health on Air Quality in Barnet.
The Director will be periodically briefed on air quality measures and improvements as it has a direct influence on the health of Barnet residents.

Just occasionally, a Barnet Council document leaves me speechless. Is it really possible that prior to this 2017 action plan, the Director of Public Health wasn't being briefed?  No wonder Barnet has the worst measured air quality in Western Europe (at Mill Hill Bus station under the M1).

Action 8 Director of Public Health to sign off Annual Status Reports and new Air Quality Action Plans.
This action aims to ensure that air quality is high on the agenda for the Health & Wellbeing Board, and also to promote partnership working.

If the aim of this is to conclude that air quality is high on the agenda for  the Health and Wellbeing board, given the lack of enforcement of dust controls, cancellation of brown bins, charging for blue bins, lack of public transport planning for mega schemes, etc, one has to conclude that it really isn't working. 

Action9 School travel planning.
The London Borough of Barnet encourages walking and cycling to school.  It develops school travel plans, provides bicycle training, maintenance sessions and teaches road safety. The work is evaluated by the No. of Local Authority, Independent, Academy and Free Schools with TfL STAR Accreditation (TfL STAR  - Sustainable Travel Accredited and Recognised). Currently this is 90% of schools.

This really angers me. "School travel planning" has nothing to do with teaching kids how to ride bikes. It demonstrates that the people who write these reports do not understand English. Travel planning for schools should mean developing sustainable admissions policies (ie reference for local kids who are within walking/cycling distance, deveelopment of "safe cycling corridors" for all pupils living withion 2KM of schols. As an example, 85% of the admissions for Mill Hill County High School (the largest secondary school in Barnet) have to cross a major arterial rode on their journey to schools. None in this area have a safe cycle route. Another thing I would like to see is a requirement for all selective/faith schools to start the school day at 8am. I have no issue with selective/faith schools, but their catchment base is much larger, meaning a high proportion of pupils travel to school by car. An 8am start would ensure that the majority of these journeys would be outside of the rush hour. Staggering of school oepning times should be centrally planned across the Borough to ensure the effects of school run is minimised. I would also like to see parnet sign up to a walking charter, wih financial penalties for those that sign up to ensure admission, then renage on commitments.

Action 10 Air quality projects with schools.
The projects initiated by the 2013-2016 Mayor’s Air Quality Fund will continue where funding is realised.  These include an anti-idling awareness campaign at primary schools; campaign work with the charity Living Streets to promote walking to school and “Clean Air Routes”; work with the music industry to encourage secondary school children to walk or cycle to school to improve air quality and their health; and provision of information to parents about air quality in the form of leaflets. The Council has worked with 45 schools, directly delivering lessons about air quality, anti-idling initiatives and road safety/active travel initiatives. Over a seven day period, outside 10 schools,  189 drivers have been advised about not leaving vehicles idling and 64 instances of idling were stopped. 1,600 secondary school pupils attended a “Go Your Own Way to School” show; 92% of these pupils are now committed to improving air quality outside their school, and 87% have stated they will make an effort to walk and cycle more for their health.

This is all very well, but the primary problem is that parents are driving short distances. Sadly until the way admissions are conducted is resolved, this will continue.
Action 11 Investigate joining North London Freight Consolidation Scheme.
Barnet has recently been awarded £55K as part of the London Mayor’s Air Quality Fund over a period of two years to join the existing North London Freight Consolidation Scheme on a trial basis.  Boroughs work together to consolidate their deliveries.  Goods are delivered to a consolidation centre, from which cleaner, low emission vehicles make the final part of the journey to Council offices.  The aim is to reduce the amount of vehicle trips and therefore the amount of air pollution.  The project will start with a review of the Council’s existing deliveries, and contracts with partners to understand the current behaviours around ordering and deliveries.  The second phase will involve joining the existing consolidation scheme, if appropriate to Barnet’s needs and requirements.

I did some research. I was interested in how the "North London Freight Consolidation Scheme" is supposed to work. It is clearly an aspiration as opposed to something that is actually up and running. Strangely the TFL document detailing this does not mention Barnet. The scheme says 
"Councils should work together with Universities, Business Improvement Districts, Hospitals,
Offices and Retailers in their local areas to achieve maximum throughput. Once the facility
is in place, adding volume increases the efficiency, cost effectivenessand environmental benefits for all." I run a business, I've heard nothing from Barnet Council about any of this. If nothing else, Barnet was rather late to the party. 

Action 12 Achieve Bronze accreditation of the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) for the borough’s own fleet by October 2016 and Silver accreditation by March 2018.
The Borough’s vehicle fleet numbers approximately 380, and includes rubbish trucks, gritting lorries, road sweepers, small vans, minibuses, mowers and other machinery.  All of the fleet complies with the requirements of the Low Emission Zone and there is a mix of Euro V and the highest Euro VI standard vehicles. The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme is an accreditation scheme encompassing safety, fuel efficiency, vehicle emissions and improved operations.

A degree of credit where credit is due. At least there is a degree of progress, although I'd like to see a firm commitment to going electric.

Action 13 Investigate the possibility of increasing the number of hydrogen, electric, hybrid, biomethane and other cleaner vehicles in the borough’s fleet.
Continued decreases in vehicle emissions are possible with cleaner vehicle technologies. The council currently has none of these vehicles in its fleet, however it   is actively exploring the use of Hybrid Vans  and the feasibility of introducing them.
Action 14 Accelerate uptake of new Euro VI vehicles in borough fleet.
Euro VI vehicles have the lowest emissions for nitrogen dioxides and particulates for standard vehicles, and the higher the percentage of these vehicles in the fleet, the lower the overall pollutant emissions. All new vehicles procured will be to the highest Euro VI standard.
Ditto. A degree of credit where credit is due. At least there is a degree of progress, although I'd like to see a firm commitment to going electric.

Action 15 Safer Urban Driver Training for drivers of vehicles in borough’s fleet.
LIP funding is provided for CPC Safer Urban Driver Training for borough fleet drivers.  The training focuses on the challenges of driving in cities in a way that lowers the risk to vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians.  The training includes an outdoor on-road cycling session to gain insights into the cyclist experience on the road.

Whilst I am happy that this is being done, this statement does not actually address the purpose of this document, which is to reduce pollution. Are these courses training council drivers to drive in a manner that reduces emissions? Not over revving of engines and turning them off whilst idling are two measures that can make a difference. Are these covered?

Action 16 Control air pollution from industrial / commercial and residential sources.
The Council has a statutory duty to regulate over 100 premises to reduce emissions to air, including cement batchers, dry cleaners, crematoria, printing presses, petrol stations, vehicle re-sprayers and concrete crushers.  It also has a duty to investigate complaints of dust nuisance, including complaints about construction sites.  The relevant legislation is the Environmental Permitting Regulations and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Key Performance Indicator EH02(LAPPC) sets an annual target of 100% inspection of medium and high risk rated premises. This has been achieved every year since 2005.

Back to dust. Mr Bard, who runs a business at Burtonhole Lane and is featured in the above video has complained numerous times about the dust from the NIMR development. He has yet to receive any sort of satisfactory answer. I wonder how he feels about the council receiving 100% ratings?

Action 17 Monitor air quality. 
The London Borough of Barnet has a duty to review and assess air quality. There are two automatic air quality stations at Tally Ho and Chalgrove School (measuring particulates, PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, NO2).  These results are published on the web at  Nitrogen dioxide is also monitored using 15 diffusion tubes across the borough.  The results are reported to Defra and the GLA, and help to inform residents, and consultants acting on behalf of developers. 
Action 18 Ultra Low Emission Zone to cover the whole of the London Borough of Barnet.
The ULEZ will come into being in September 2020.  It includes all vehicles and covers the area of the current congestion charging zone.  A feasibility study was carried out for TfL in 2015 to consider the expansion of the proposed ULEZ.   One proposal is to have the boundary of the A406 as the limit of the zone.  This could lead to residential streets close to tube, bus and railway stations near the A406 North Circular Road in Barnet becoming more congested with people trying to avoid paying the charge. There are also highly polluted trunk roads north of the A406 in Barnet such as A1, M1, A41, A5 and A1000 that if not in the ULEZ will not see a significant reduction in vehicle congestion or pollution reduction to residents.  It is recommended that the option to increase the ULEZ to cover the whole of Barnet is explored and members consulted on this option.  This action is likely to have the most significant impact on reducing air pollution in the Borough.  In the GLA evidence for a ULEZ, in 2025 there was a 31% predicted reduction in NOx emissions in Barnet if all of Barnet is in the ULEZ, but if only the area below the A406 is in the ULEZ there will be only an 8% decrease in NOx emissions by 2025. The major roads in Barnet are significantly used by commuters who drive through the borough without stopping and they would be subject to the ULEZ by 2019-20, whereas Barnet residents who  can have an exemption until 2023. This means residents with petrol vehicles pre Euro IV would be at least 14 years old and diesel cars at least 9 years old before they were noncompliant and subject to a charge. There is consultation on a generous scrappage scheme for pre Euro VI diesels for all residents in the ULEZ. The ULEZ should also encourage more sustainable and active transport.

This is an absolute farce. Everyone in Barnet Council knows the undercroft of Mill Hill Broadway bus station is the worst air quality spot in the Borough of Barnet and Western Europe. This is the sort of site that should have permanent air quality monitoring, not least because 2 million commuters a year have to breath the smog as they emerge from Mill Hill Broadway Station and hundreds of children breath it in as they wait for buses. I believe that Barnet deliberately does not site monitoring at such spots because they know it will be appalling and people will demand action. 

Action 19 Lower legal speed limit to 20mph in areas close to schools.
This is a policy that was agreed by the Council Cabinet in 2014.  LIP funding is being used to design and implement 20mph zones close to schools for road safety.  This should have indirect benefits for air quality as more people are encouraged to walk and cycle to school instead of taking the car.  There are currently 23.2km of 20mph road in the borough. There is an achievable target of an extra 2km per year subject to feasibility studies.

Again this is an example of muddled think from Barnet Council. Whilst I am for a 20mph limit outside schools in school hours for safety reasons, a 20mph limit actually increases pollution. This is a road safety issue, not an air quality issue. It appears that the council does not understand the difference

Action 20 Differential charges for residential parking permits based on pollutant emissions.
The Council’s new parking permit scheme for residents links the charges to the emissions in gCO2 (grams of carbon dioxide) that the vehicle emits in order to try to persuade car owners to move towards vehicles emitting less carbon dioxide.  There are three payment bands.  Cars in the 2 higher bands must pay a higher price for their permit.  This action reflects the Council’s Parking Policy and helps encourage the take-up of low emission vehicles.  Electric vehicles incur no charge.  The Council will carry out an annual review of emissions based bands to reflect national and regional policies.

We are broadly supportive of this, however given that the government was until recently encouraging road users to buy diesel, we'd prefer a carrot and a stick, so if a user switches to a zero emission car from a diesel or a high emission, they should receive a full refund for one year

Action 21 Improved electric vehicle charging point infrastructure.
Encouraging motorists to choose electric vehicles rather than the traditional petrol or diesel car is a key government policy to improve air quality.  The installation of more electric vehicle charging points in residential streets as well as car parks will encourage the take up of electric vehicles.  Some LIP funding is being spent in 2016/2017 for installation of new points and EVCP infrastructure will also be provided by Bluepoint as part of Source London, following the first 12 points installed in 2015.  In addition, charging points are a requirement of certain new developments.

The devil is in the detail. The number of charging points for a Borough the size of Barnet is woeful. Every parking area should have at least 10% of spaces reserved and enabled for electric cars, with a 50% reduction in parking costs. 

Action 22 Increase provision of cycle parking.
Support for cycling is provided financially through the Local Implementation Plan (LIP).  Better parking provision for cyclists helps make cycling an attractive alternative to the private car, encouraging modal shift.  Sites for improved facilities will include leisure centres, shopping areas, rail and tube stations, and other transport hubs. Target of between 50-100 cycle spaces per annum.

We are supportive of this action.

Action 23 Encourage modal shift to bicycle through improved bicycle routes and encourage walking with safer, attractive and more accessible pedestrian routes.
A key strategy is to encourage alternative means of transport as road traffic is the primary source of air pollution in Barnet.  The LIP is funding the improvement of bicycle routes and the details will be in the finalised cycle strategy.  Quietway routes are being progressed in the Borough.  These give cyclists an alternative quiet route to the busy main roads. Many of the major roads in Barnet are sufficiently wide to accommodate a cycle lane (1-1.5m wide with a white line).  This would improve car and bicycle lane discipline and reduce congestion for motorists, while making cycling a safer option. This need not impede parking or restrict access to business. This type of option would be subject to a road space asset review.  It is important to continue to consider the needs of different road-users.
 The target for 2016/17 is aiming to train 2,000 children (Bikeability Level 2 or 3) and 250 adults.  
In 2015 1,764 pupils and 261 adults were trained.

Performance Indicators HSTD02: target of 3 % of all journeys by cycle in 2024 and HSTD01: % trips by walking to increase from 29-31% by 2024.
Current evidence suggests a 1% modal shift of increased journeys from cycling based on 3 years data from TfL.

The action on safe/segregated cycleways is painfully slow and woefully inadequate. Whenever Barnet are seeking to discuss this, they always bung in the "we're supplying training for children". This is a red herring in terms of provision of safe routes. You can train an astronaut, but if you don't build him a rocket, he's a bloke sitting around without a purpose. The same is true of training children to cycle in Barnet. There is simply nowhere that it is truly safe for them to use their skills.

Action 24 Actions on TfL-controlled roads.
Transport for London manage the roads which are the busiest and the source of the most air pollution in Barnet, namely the A406, A41, A5 and A1. TfL also run the buses that operate on Barnet’s roads.  The Council will liaise with TfL to explore options to reduce congestion and improve air quality on these roads.  This could include deploying the newest lowest emission buses, creating cycle lanes where feasible, and better traffic signal management and junction design.

 The title of the council document is an "action plan". When it comes down to the biggest source of pollution in the Borough, it is the second last item on the plan, there's been no action and there is no plan! It is quite shameful. The Mayor should hang his head in shame for not being able to work with the Council.

Action 25 Actions on the M1.
The M1 motorway is managed by the Highways Agency.  It passes through very populated areas of Barnet, causing poor air quality and also high noise levels.  The Council will liaise with the Highways Agency to explore options for improving air quality in Barnet.  Work is currently taking place on feasibility studies of noise and air quality barriers in Mill Hill.

Noise and pollution are two different issues, however there is a degree of linkage. The M1 is at the bottom of my garden, so this is an  issue close to my heart. When the M1 was built in 1968, Hawthorn trees were planted on the embankment. These are not evergreen so provide no sound screening at all for four months of the year. Planting of evergreen species with sticky leaves would remove particulates, provide better sound insulation and generally make a massive improvement to the environment.  As our business is socially responsible, we planted a row of 20 such trees on our boundary in Bunns Lane with Flower Lane. These provide a degree of screening for residents in Woodland Way from the worst noise of the M1. It is not rocket science, it is not expensive and I am sure many residents would contribute to such a planting scheme. I certainly would. 

Why do we continue to tolerate bad air quality which kills so many. Why do we force children to wait for buses in sites that have dangerous levels of pollution? Why do we allow developers to produce clouds of potentially toxic dust next to Primary Schools? Barnet has a plan to deal with this, but it is woefully inadequate. The Barnet Eye is working to pull together everyone who cares, to come up with a new plan, one that the community can support and make happen. Do you support us?

London air quality can be tracked here. Twitter for London AirBarnet council has opted not to be a member of the London Air Quality Network and support the services we bring to the public. As a result, information displayed here for this area is limited compared to member boroughs.

We can only speculate as to why.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

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