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Westminster vows to tackle Oxford Street pollution

Councillor Heather Acton calls air quality a ‘top issue’ as she launches Westminster’s Greener City Action Plan

A Westminster city councillor has vowed to tackle air pollution on Central London’s busy Oxford Street as the authority launches its environmental plan for the next 10 years.

The debate continues over whether Oxford Street in London should be pedestrianised

The debate continues over whether Oxford Street in London should be pedestrianised

However, Conservative councillor Heather Acton stopped short of fully supporting pedestrianisation of the popular shopping street – unlike the candidates for both the Conservative and Labour parties in the forthcoming Mayoral elections, who have both voiced support for such a policy in recent weeks.

Speaking at an event this week (October 19) to launch the Westminster’s Greener City Action Plan, Cllr Acton – who is the council’s cabinet member for parking and sustainability – said “we will find a solution for Oxford Street” with regards to its high levels of nitrogen dioxide, largely from buses.

However, while she said that “for 10 years we have been asking TfL to reduce buses on Oxford Street” she added that “some people and businesses do not want pedestrianisation” and that a solution was therefore needed.

Cllr Acton said: “I would say that air pollution is one of the top three issues and it is something we need to focus on.”

She also said that the Mayor’s current plans for a ULEZ in Central London from 2020 were “too little too late”, and that expanding the zone to include a wider area would help to benefit the centre of the city.

Oxford Street seen from the air

Oxford Street seen from the air

Action Plan

Westminster’s Greener City Action Plan (2015-2025) sets out the council’s “10-year vision for how we will maintain and improve the environment for our residents, businesses and visitors”, outlines 11 objectives, one of which is ‘Improving local air quality’.

On this point, the Plan states the council’s aim to strengthen links between public health interventions and air quality, to complete the delivery of its 2013 Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) and to help deliver the Ultra Low Emission Zone in Central London from 2020.

In addition, it also states a commitment to “Work with TfL and property owners in air quality hotspots e.g. Oxford Street to reduce vehicle numbers and emissions from vehicles which service the area”.

Cllr Acton said that Plan “provides a framework in which we can all work together” but that “some of the targets still need to be set”.

Oxford Street

Oxford Street regularly breaches national and European limits for air quality and was last year singled out by then King’s College London academic David Carslaw for having NO2 levels among the “highest in the world” (see story).

Also speaking at the Westminster event this week, Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett described the suggestion that some of London’s streets were among the worst in the world for NO2 pollution as “really quite shocking”.

He added: “It is almost entirely from diesel fumes, although some is from domestic boilers. The solution for this is to ban diesel vehicles from the most polluted places in London.”

Mr Birkett made positive noises about the Westminster strategy and said that he was “pleased to see Heather taking such a strong line”, but added that “we need a lot of actions across Westminster”.

In particular, as well as calling for a “revolution” in diesel use and regulation, he said: “We must have a pedestrianised Oxford Street.”

His views here align with the frontrunners to take over from Boris Johnson as London Mayor in the election next May – Labour MP for Tooting, Sadiq Kahn, and Conservative MP for Richmond Zac Goldsmith – who have both voiced support for making Oxford Street a no-go area for motor vehicles.

Mr Birkett said: “It is going to be a particularly lively Mayoral election over the next few months.”

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