Big Improvement In London's Roadside Pollution, Says Report

By M@
Big Improvement In London's Roadside Pollution, Says Report
A sign saying EUSTNO2 ROAD
Image: Matt Brown

London is no longer the 'Big Smoke' if the latest stats on air quality are to be believed.

City Hall just published an update on pollution called Air Quality in London 2016-2024 and the numbers sound encouraging.

Average roadside NO2 levels dropped 49% between 2016 and 2023. This compares with a drop of 35% in the rest of England. Further, the number of monitoring sites exceeding the UK’s annual legal limit for NO2 has decreased from 56 to five in the same period. Our air quality still isn't great, but it is getting better.

The report certainly raises eyebrows in places. Average annual concentrations of NO2 in London were supposedly at their lowest on record for 2023... even lower than in the lockdown-laden days of 2020. That is quite astonishing, especially as the capital was reckoned to be the most congested city on the planet in one 2022 report.

The report points to the Mayor's pollution-cutting strategies as the main driver of change. Recent years have seen the electrification of many buses and taxis, further rollout of cycling infrastructure and other green initiatives.

But the most notable (and notorious) measure is the ULEZ expansion. Brought into full effect from August 2023, this imposes a charge on the most polluting vehicles, throughout Greater London. Earlier, more central iterations of the scheme appear to have cut pollution, but it's too early to say with confidence whether the extension will have a similar effect.

Two ULEZ signs
Image: Matt Brown

Improvements to air quality are, of course, all good to see. But a sceptical eye is also needed. The study was published by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. An independent analysis would be nice. Convenient timing, too, with Khan up for re-election in May. It's perhaps telling that the words "Silvertown Tunnel" only appear once in the 68-page report, with no comment on the possible impact on local pollution from this upcoming motor crossing. Meanwhile, the Mayor's policies are described as "ambitious" some 17 times.

But credit where it's due. Silvertown aside, Khan's tenure has seen serious efforts to combat London's choky streets. He's just announced £5.3 million funding through the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund towards 17 borough-led projects that should further reduce pollution locally.

There's still much to do. Even with the reported drops, NO2 levels are still exceeding legal maximums all too often, and other pollutants such as carbon emissions and particulates from tyres still pose serious risks to health and environment.

Read the full report here (PDF).

Last Updated 12 March 2024