Air Pollution


Registered Charity 276264

Founded in 1927 to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea for the public benefit.



Poor air-quality is linked to around 9,400 deaths per year in London, and air-pollution causes more than twice as many deaths as road traffic accidents. Two pollutants of particular concern are nitrogen oxides, which aggravates symptoms in asthmatics, causes inflammation of the airways and reduces lung development and function; and particulate matter (PM) which contributes to the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer. There is also evidence that exposure to traffic fumes contributes to dementia.

NOx is a generic term for the nitrogen oxides that are most relevant to air pollution, namely nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). These gases contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain. NOx gases are usually produced from the reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during combustion of fuels, such as hydrocarbons, in air; especially at high temperatures, such as occur in internal-combustion engines. In areas of high motor vehicle traffic, in large cities, the nitrogen oxides emitted can be a significant source of air pollution.

Most of the air-pollution in Chelsea is caused by exhaust from motor vehicles, and in particular from buses, taxis, and delivery vehicles.  The BBC website identifies the King’s Road as one of the most polluted streets in London based on 2016 figures.

There is a growing demand for cleaner air, and there is general agreement that the air in city centres like London needs urgent action to clean it up. Some people are blaming diesel cars as the main cause and urging higher taxes or restrictions on them.  It is a good idea first to examine what we know about the sources and causes of pollution in London.  The London Assembly researched the sources of NOx in London in 2015 and found the following:

Bus, coach and rail transport    18%

Goods vehicles    17%

Gas heating systems    16%

Non-road mobile machinery    14%

Diesel cars    11%

Petrol cars and motorcycles  8%

Aviation    8%

Industry   7%

The TFL study in 2016 showed a similar pattern, with both bus and coach, and goods vehicles, each accounting for more than diesel cars.  The new Euro VI standards for engines require both petrol and diesel engines to emit less than 5mg per km of particulates. They allow just 80 mg of NOx for diesels compared to 60 mg for petrol, but they allow petrol engines to emit more carbon monoxide (which is poisonous) than diesels (100mg versus 50mg)

Effective action to clean up the air, requires replacement of a lot of older technology in buses, trains, cars, and gas and oil-fired boilers. This will also cut running costs.  Instead of working up a new series of penalties for owners of older diesel cars, government should work on a range of incentives to tackle the problem in a broad-based way, removing the oldest buses, lorries, cars and boilers which would do the most to improve the position. it could also give a welcome boost to the home industries that produce these items. Let’s have better scrappage and financing schemes, so more people can afford to make their contribution to cleaner air, and can at the same time take pride in owning better vehicles and equipment.

Vehicles often do not achieve the test specifications on emissions, because actual drive-cycles are often different from test-cycles. We share the concerns of RBKC about real-world diesel emissions of Euro VI vehicles in light of findings on Euro 4 and 5 vehicles, and we propose that the ULEZ standards and all other measures should be reviewed regularly to take into account actual emissions.

We also need to take into account the amount of use made of various categories of vehicle. A typical privately-owned passenger car spends most of its time parked. A motorist who averages 8,000 miles a year, and averages 25 mph through a mixture of open road and congested town driving, uses the vehicle for a total of just thirteen whole days per year. However, a commercial vehicle like a bus or a delivery van may well operate for more than ten times that amount of time, over 130 whole days a year. That means we will get a far bigger saving of exhaust-pollution if we replace the old buses and vans than the old cars. The same is also true for many diesel trains that operate long hours, and for diesel lorries.

It is important to recognise that congestion causes far more pollution than allowing vehicles to make optimal progress at reasonable cruising speeds. This argues for the adoption of more policies that can reduce congestion.  Improving junctions is central to this. Parking more of the vehicles off the highway is also an important aim, as often parked vehicles cause congestion and delay by narrowing the highway.  Three major east-west roads run through Chelsea – the Embankment, the King’s Road and the Fulham Road, and they are often heavily congested, producing high levels of pollution from stationary and slow-moving vehicles. The global traffic analysts INRIX reported that  in 2016 drivers in London spent an average of 73 hours stuck in traffic, and that the cost of congestion was £6.2 billion, or £1,911 each.

The more the vehicles have to slow down and speed up, and stand in traffic, the worse the emissions performance is likely to be. Older vehicles do not have cut-outs at traffic lights and other stops. Trains often keep their diesel engines running whilst waiting for considerable periods of time at stations or signals, or to adjust service times. These are matters which newer vehicles and engines and better operating methods can help address.

Congestion (and consequent pollution) is also a problem in localised areas such as the north end of Sloane Street at its junction with Knightsbridge, and we are calling for action by RBKC and TfL to improve this junction. It is essential that improved traffic management schemes are introduced to keep the traffic moving, and the hours during which commercial vehicles can make deliveries in busy streets should be restricted. We note that there are proposals to relocate the long-distance coach terminal from Victoria to outer-London, which should reduce air-pollution in Chelsea.

Parking and waiting restrictions at busy times must be strictly enforced.  Occasional visits by traffic wardens are not enough, and it seems to us that parking wardens spend more time in the side streets than on the main roads.

Substantial traffic congestion can be caused by road-works, which need to be much better co-ordinated so that the same stretch of road is not excavated sequentially by more than one utility company.  Highway authorities should give much more notice of intended roadworks, and provide clearly signed advice a long way back as to alternative routes where possible.  The duration of the work should be clearly indicated and enforced.  In other countries it is possible to carry out roadworks much more quickly, and it could be done here if the works were properly planned and sufficient manpower and equipment were made available, together with late night and early morning working where acceptable to local residents.

Much of the traffic we have to endure in Chelsea is not local private-car use but vehicles in transit. We believe nevertheless that RBKC should progressively increase the cost of residents’ parking permits for vehicles with large capacity engines and/or for households wanting more than one permit.  RBKC has sought to remove car-club permit eligibility for diesel cars in order to incentivise car club operators to move towards cleaner fleets.  They have also introduced a campaign against drivers who run their engines while parked, but this needs to be enforced. With regard to road humps or raised “tables” there is evidence that by forcing drivers to slow down before speeding up again, road humps cause vehicles to produce a greater amount of harmful emissions from their engines, and particulate matter from their brakes.

Cutting emissions requires much detailed work on driving needs and conditions, road space and junctions, and ages of different types of vehicle. It is certainly important to start by tackling public service vehicles and commercial vehicles, as they do so many more miles per year than the private car.

The Mayor has proposed an Ultra-low Emissions Zone whose western boundary is Grosvenor Place and Park Lane, but we consider that an expansion of the ULEZ to include RBKC will be necessary in order to deliver a significant reduction in air-pollution in Chelsea from motor vehicles. We would like to see this implemented by 2019 instead of 2020. Measures need to be devised to prevent non-compliant heavy-goods-vehicles (especially from abroad whose drivers may not be familiar with the restrictions) entering the zone.

Incentives should be given to use electric and hybrid vehicles, but consumers need to be protected from excessive costs for the vehicles and for the electricity to charge their batteries.  RBKC is already planning for battery-charging points in the Borough, but there is a risk that too much local demand for electricity could cause overloads unless the infrastructure and generating capacity is upgraded.

Major efforts also need to be made to curb any more large scale building developments in RBKC and in the eastern part of Hammersmith & Fulham, which serve to aggravate levels of congestion and pollution, and further overload not only the roads but the infrastructure.  Essential projects to increase the capacity of the water, gas, and sewage infrastructure will cause massive traffic disruption over the next few years and we believe it will be of crucial importance for the existing road system to be managed more effectively to avoid the already alarming air-pollution levels deteriorating still further over the coming years.

In addition to motor vehicles, pollution is caused by gas and oil boilers, and all new or replacement boilers must be required to meet stringent emissions standards. Building owners should also be encouraged to install solar panels for heating water and generating electricity, in places where they would not impair the visual amenity of the locality. (Permission has recently been given for solar panels on the roof of Christ Church Chelsea, which the Chelsea Society supported).

Air pollution is also caused by the hundreds of airliners which fly low over Chelsea every day, emitting spent aviation-fuel, and this is one reason why air traffic capacity should NOT  be increased at Heathrow.  Major pollution is also caused by dust and other particulate matter produced by building works, much of which is abrasive dust which is very damaging to paintings and furniture as well as our lungs.  Construction Management Plans and Construction Traffic Management Plans must pay particular attention to air-quality, and must be strictly enforced.

For many years, RBKC has experienced high levels of NOx and PM. The “Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in London” report (King’s College, 2015) estimated that in 2010, 8.3% of early deaths in the Borough were attributable to fine particulate air-pollution (PM2.5) along with a further 16.6% of early deaths attributable to NOx. This figure is the highest in London together with Westminster. The impact on children is of particular concern as there are a number of schools sited close to roads exposing pupils to elevated concentrations of NOx and PM.

Planning Committee of the Chelsea Society

21st April 2017





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