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Air Quality

john-biggs-homepage-thumb"I’m determined to make tackling air pollution a priority for the whole council. It’s unacceptable that some of our local schools are among the most polluted in the city, and that people in Tower Hamlets are twice as likely to die from lung cancer and other lung diseases than people in London’s most well off boroughs.

“Improving air quality is a matter of social justice and an urgent public health priority. I welcome the leadership from Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on this issue, but we know we can do much more at a local level too. Reducing air pollution is only possible by working together – with our partners, businesses and local residents – so we need to know what you think about the proposals in our new air quality action plan.”

- Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs.

Recent studies have shown that around 9,000 people in London die from the effects of poor air quality each year.

There is a strong body of evidence which shows that short term exposure to high levels of air pollution has a range of adverse health effects. These can range from exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic respiratory disease, through to increases in emergency admissions to hospital. Poor air quality disproportionately affects the health outcomes of the very young, the elderly, the ill and the poor.

Impacts of pollution

Air Pollution is a big issue in Tower Hamlets where around 40% of our residents live in areas with unacceptable air quality and we have 37 Primary Schools and 11 Secondary Schools located in areas of pollution exceed the legal limits.

Studies, including one carried out in Tower Hamlets, have shown that children living in highly polluted areas are much more likely to have reduced lung function in adulthood, as the pollution affects the developing lungs.  Young children who live in polluted areas also have more coughs and wheezes. Improving air quality for children has been shown to halt and reverse this effect.

Where does the pollution come from?

The main source of pollution in Tower Hamlets is form road vehicle emissions. The rest of the emissions originate from construction machinery, river traffic and aviation.

What we are doing

We would like to hear from you on how we can better tackle this issue from a local authority level.

We are consulting on our Air Quality Action Plan which outlines what Tower Hamlets aims to deliver between 2017-2022 in order to reduce concentrations of pollution, and exposure to pollution.

Three changes we want to see are:

  • increased usage of low emissions transport by installing electric vehicle charge points
  • greater engagement and awareness with businesses and schools to help reduce their own impact on air pollutionEnsuring new developments  across the borough do not adversely impact the local air quality.

The actions in the plan are split into 9 broad themes.

ThemeWhyExamples of what we plan to do
London Local Air Quality Management Fulfilling our statutory requirements on Air Pollution. Monitor the pollution across the borough and report on concentrations and actions taken.
Emissions from developments and buildings Emissions from buildings account for about 20% of the NOx emissions across Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets is experiencing extremely high levels of development. Use the planning system to ensure new developments do not adversely impact the air quality in the borough. Energy efficiency retrofitting projects to reduce emissions from existing estates/buildings.
Major Infrastructure Projects Major infrastructure projects have the potential to either improve or worsen air quality. Use the planning system to ensure that any major infrastructure projects do not worsen air quality in the borough.
Public health and awareness raising Air pollution is a major public health issue with an estimated 9,000 deaths in London per year due to poor air quality. Increasing awareness can drive behavioural change to lower emissions as well as to reduce exposure to air pollution. Engage with schools including installing anti-idling signage, citizen science projects, air quality communications campaigns and promoting air quality alerts.
Delivery servicing and freight Vehicles delivering goods and services are usually light and heavy duty diesel-fuelled vehicles with high primary NO2 emissions. Use the procurement process to encourage sustainable logistics for deliveries. Review freight consolidation of deliveries.
Borough fleet actions Tower Hamlets has 200 fleet vehicles. We need to lead by example to reduce emissions. Upgrade the council fleet to Euro 6 vehicles and electric vehicles. Ensure our contractors (e.g waste collection) use as cleaner vehicles as possible.
Localised solutions Target pollution hotspots to improve the environment of neighbourhoods. Local projects include the Zero Emissions Network business engagement. The Low Emissions Neighbourhood and installing green infrastructure.
Cleaner transport Transport accounts for over half (53%) the pollution emissions in the borough. Encourage low emissions travel by installing public electric vehicle charge points, re-banding parking fees to account for pollution emissions, providing infrastructure for walking and cycling.
Lobbying and partnership working Air pollution is a complex issue.  There needs to be a coordinated approach from all stakeholders. Engage with stakeholders including Government, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to ensure policies adequately address the issue of air quality.


View the full Air Quality Action Plan.

The maps below show the variations in concentrations of the pollutants of concern, NO2, PM10 & PM2.5, across the borough. The pie charts show the variation in different sources of the pollutants in the borough. The maps and charts have been produced by the Greater London Authority as part of the London Atmospherics Emissions Inventory and contain modelled data for the year 2013.  


Maps and charts have been produced by the Greater London Authority as part of the London Atmospherics Emissions Inventory. Further information and data downloads are available GLA website

Further Information:

Environmental Health & Trading standards, environmental.protection@towerhamlets.gov.uk