Housing approved despite pollution warning to keep windows shut

Air assessment finds pollution levels in London development far exceed legal limit

A south London housing development has been approved in an area where air pollution is so high that residents will be advised to keep their windows closed.

Nitrogen dioxide exceeds legal limits on the busy road where the development is planned, next to the A2 in Lewisham. An air quality assessment carried out on behalf of the developers found levels of 56.3 micrograms per cubic metre in the area – far above the legal limit of 40µg/m3.

The highest estimate of NO2 inside the development was also above legal levels at 43.7µg/m3, which would affect residents on the first floor.

The assessment includes the guidance: “With opening windows the developer should advise the future occupants that their health could be at risk due to relatively high levels of air pollution in the area.”

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi Debrah, a campaigner from Lewisham whose daughter’s death has been linked to air pollution, called the decision “an absolute disaster”.

Her daughter, Ella Roberta Kissi-Debrah, was nine when she died of acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. NO2 levels near their Lewisham home were consistently above the legal limit. The attorney general has approved a new inquest into the death.

“They have learned nothing from my daughter’s death, nothing at all. It is an insult,” said Kissi-Debrah.

Despite the developer’s warnings over air quality, Lewisham council deems it a “low priority consideration” in its planning report, rejecting solutions to mitigate against the risk of high air pollution.

In one section, the council rejects providing glazing on the basis of a prediction that “air pollution levels should fall as vehicle emissions in the area reduce”.

Instead, the council agrees to finance marketing materials so that “occupiers/residents … are notified of the potential air pollution risks to human health”. It states that such information “would be likely to take the form of marketing information, leasehold clause and welcome pack”.

Claire Holman, an air quality expert, said interior air pollution can also be dangerous – such as pollution arising from using cleaning materials, toiletries, or a wood-burning stove, meaning it does not always make sense to keep windows shut.

Holman, chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management, said residents would find it difficult to know when they should be able to open their windows. “People know whether it’s too hot inside, or too noisy outside, but sensing poor air quality is more difficult. They may open their windows during pollution events without realising.”

She added: “I have a problem with leaving it up to the individual. People’s awareness of air quality is not great enough.”

The developer has agreed to pay £7,500 towards monitoring air quality near the development, as it sits in an air quality management area – an area which is unlikely to meet national air quality objectives.

The developer has also agreed to contribute £17,500 towards planting trees nearby and make further contributions towards pedestrian safety, better street signs and parking.

Kissi-Debrah dismissed the contributions as piecemeal. “Those trees will be tiny when they are planted and will do little do absorb such high levels of nitrogen dioxide,” she said. “I would like to believe [Lewisham council] were not aware of the illegal levels of air pollution in the borough when my daughter was alive.

“But now they know, how can they seriously have a policy that says people need to close their windows? Air seeps in. Do they expect people will never open their front doors? They can’t have taken [my daughter’s death] very seriously at all.”

In a statement, Bluecroft Property Development did not respond to questions about air quality, but said homes would meet living-space requirements. “London needs new homes and better air quality, which is why the mayor is taking action on both issues.

“All homes meet or exceed the standards the GLA’s private amenity space and internal space standards.”

Lewisham council said: “The housing crisis and air quality are two of the greatest challenges facing London. A planning condition is in place that ensures that the building will meet air quality objectives. The developer will provide a ventilation system that will take clean air from the roof and deliver it to the first two floors of the development.

“Lewisham is committed to improving air quality. We will soon be launching a borough wide consultation that proposes emission based charging for parking permits with the aim of encouraging residents to use low- or no-emission vehicles or, better still, seek other forms of transport.”


Poppy Noor

The GuardianTramp

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