Calls for 'significant' City of London parking charges as air quality levels missed

UK, London, elevated view over city financial district skyline at sunset
-Credit: (Image: Gary Yeowell via Getty Images)

The City of London has failed to meet international recommendations for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at any of its air quality monitoring sites for 2023. This is despite continuing to reduce levels of pollutants across the Square Mile, with 95 per cent of the locations measured now meeting the less-stringent national NO2 standards.

A spokesperson for the City said they expect to meet the national standards everywhere in the next two to three years, with NO2 levels cut by nearly 50 per cent since 2016. Jemima Hartshorn, a mum of two and Founder and Director at Mums for Lungs, has called for the City to work with businesses to update their fleets to electric vehicles and cargo bikes, and to introduce ‘significant’ parking surcharges to reduce the number of diesel vehicles.

NO2 is largely derived from the combustion of fossil fuels, and can exacerbate the symptoms of people already suffering from lung or heart conditions. At high levels it can inflame the airways, and also causes changes to the environment. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which sets the international recommended levels, says that data shows 99 per cent of the global population breathe air exceeding its guidelines.

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Measured in micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3), the national standard set in the UK is 40μg/m3, while the WHO’s tighter recommendation is 10μg/m3. For 2023, the last year for which the City has data, only four roads breached the 40μg/m3 standard: Old Bailey (north end) junction with Newgate Street, St Martin's Le Grand (north end) junction with Aldersgate Street, Setting Lane/Byward Street junction, and Upper Thames Street at Walbrook Wharf. None met the 10μg/m3 WHO guideline.

The location with the lowest annual mean recorded was Speed House, with 19μg/m3, while the 49μg/m3 at Walbrook Wharf was the highest. As part of its Air Quality Annual Status Report for 2023, which was submitted to the Mayor of London and Government earlier this year, the City also recorded levels of particulate matter, presented as PM10 or PM2.5.

All PM10 monitoring sites have complied with the national standard for the past seven years, while two locations met the new PM2.5 standard of 10μg/m3, ahead of the 2040 deadline. A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation told MyLondon the council has been “at the forefront of improving and measuring air quality for over 60 years”.

Since 2016, they said levels of NO2 have been cut by nearly 50 per cent, while PM10 and PM2.5 are down 30.5 per cent and 26.5 per cent. “These statistics show huge improvements, but we will go further still,” they added.

“The WHO issues guidelines to help local authorities and governments manage the impact of air pollution on health. Current national air quality standards are based on the WHO’s 2005 guidelines.

“The WHO published new guidance in 2021, which is much tighter and has not yet been incorporated into national legislation. Our next Air Quality Strategy 2025 to 2030 goes beyond our statutory obligation and aims to exceed national targets and work towards these new WHO aims. Continuing as we are, we expect to meet the national standard for NO2 everywhere within the Square Mile in the next two to three years.”

Air pollution is 'still so high, it is really unhealthy for everyone'

Ms Hartshorn said air pollution in the City “is still so high, it is really unhealthy for everyone visiting the area: exacerbating asthma, increasing the risk of lung cancer, cardiac issues and even dementia. The problem is clear: too many vehicles and especially diesel vehicles are driving around in this special part of London.

“The City should work with businesses to ensure they update their fleets to electric vehicles or even cargo bike options where possible. It should also disincentivise all diesel vehicles in the area by introducing significant parking surcharges which are increasingly common in local authorities across London.”

Earlier this year, City of London members voted to move from a flat fee-paying structure to emissions-based charging for its owned car parks, mirroring its on-street programme.

In addition to schemes designed to reduce air pollution, the City also manages green spaces across London ranging from small parks to Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. It estimates these sites capture more than 16,000 tonnes of carbon every year, equivalent to 70 per cent of its annual carbon footprint within its own operations.

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