A Green Party member reports on the Hounslow Air Quality Summit

2 March 2019

Queuing cars

Tony Firkins attended the the Hounslow Air Quality Summit on Tuesday 26th February.  Here is his report:

"I went along to the Hounslow Air Quality Summit without great hopes. But Hounslow Council put on a very good meeting with lots of interesting speakers.

Of most interest to me was whether air pollution in Hounslow (and Brentford in particular) can be brought down so that it is much less of a health risk and to be within legal limits. It is all very well to hear lots of interesting stuff, but I am really interested in the outcomes.

For those of us who live in Brentford, the best information on how polluted we are is provided by the air pollution monitoring station on the A4 (near the intersection with Windmill Road). For Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), this shows how, during the last 15 years of legal limits, Brentford has been well over legal limits. This is measured in micrograms per square metre. The legal limit is 40. It has declined from 58 in 2004 to 52 so far in 2019.

So it was great news, when Poppy Lyle, of the Greater London Authority (GLA), told us that when the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is fully rolled out in October 2021, the models predict a 28% improvement in NO2 levels in outer London and in response to my question, in particular at the Brentford air pollution monitoring station. This would get us close to legal limits in Brentford. And this is despite Brentford not being within the ULEZ itself. The ULEZ only goes out to the North Circular Road, but is predicted to have knock on effects here in Brentford.

However, before we get too excited, note that the (September 2018 draft Hounslow Air Quality Action Plan AQAP), contains a forecast reduction of 20% in NOx from 2013 to 2020. The 2013 record is incomplete, so I averaged the 2012 and 2014 value instead – which came to 50. And the 2019 value, so far, is at 52. So it does not look good for the prediction in the very recent AQAP.  Instead of a substantial decrease in NO2 pollution in Brentford, there could even be an increase over the period. Not long to wait to see whether this AQAP forecast will come to pass – or whether it is yet more false reassurance.

The ULEZ is not the only measure that could potentially improve air pollution in Brentford. The AQAP has 40 actions and Mark Frost of Hounslow Council gave a rather rushed presentation of some of these. However, in general, it was very difficult to tell, by any measure, how much impact any of them would have compared to the ULEZ measure (which strangely is not one of the 40 measures in the AQAP). Will any of these AQAP measures even reduce NO2 or particulates emissions by 1 tonne per year?  Some of the claims in the AQAP about “potentially significant” “Air Quality Benefits” (eg commissioning a study) seem far fetched. Sorry commissioning a study will not impact air quality on the A4 in Brentford at all.

A feature of whole legal framework of AQAPs is to have focus areas where there is a particular focus on action. There are six in Hounslow. But perversely, although the Brentford air pollution station is the worst in the borough, both for NO2 and particularly for particulates, Brentford is not one of the focus areas. With the massive development planned in the A4/M4 stack as an Opportunity Area, and increased traffic due to Heathrow expansion and already worst air pollution it does seem to be a bit perverse not to include Brentford as a focus area. The AQAP does say “The Council would consider all relevant measures” in Brentford as well. Maybe it is the use of the past (or is it the conditional?) tense that does not re-assure me!

Another point of interest to us in Brentford was raised by Victoria George. This is the safety of walking and cycling along the A4, particularly at junctions. Although Will Norman’s (TfL) presentation to the Summit on walking and cycling was inspirational, it was disappointing to know that the best way to get TfL money invested in these A4 junctions was for an injury or fatality to occur at one of them. So there seems to be a bit of catch 22 here, with the cycle way being so dangerous that it puts people off using it – and then there are no incidents – and then there is no investment to make it better.

Tony Firkins



Tony Firkins

Brentford resident and Hounslow Green Party