Provisional data suggests major fall in Putney pollution

Published: 8 August 2017

Provisional data from both of Wandsworth Council’s pollution monitoring stations on Putney High Street suggest a major fall in pollution episodes as years of sustained investment in the heavily polluting bus fleet takes effect.

Between February and June this year the EU’s hourly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) objective was exceeded 6 times at the kerbside pollution monitor, compared to 742 times during the same six month period in 2016 and 640 times in 2015.

The council’s other high street monitoring station, which is mounted to a building façade further from the traffic, recorded zero hourly pollution episodes since the start of February. This compares to 200 last year and 135 in 2015.

Back in 2012 there were 1,213 pollution episodes during this six month period – so this year’s provisional figure would represent a 99 per cent fall.

Councillors stress that the data is provisional at this stage and that there is still more work to be done before residents are breathing consistently clean and healthy air. There were pollution episodes in January so the street has already breached the annual legal limit, which is set at 18.

The levels of fine particles (PM10) on the high street have remained within EU limits since testing began in 2009.

The fall in pollution coincides with the introduction of cleaner buses along the street which have been put into service since the council’s unique 2012 research project exposed the bus fleet as responsible for over 80 per cent of nitrogen dioxide build ups.

At peak times more than 100 buses per hour use this relatively narrow road, causing diesel fumes to quickly build up. 

Soon after the publication of its 2012 pollution source study the former Mayor of London put Putney to the front of the queue for clean bus investment.

The new Mayor has continued to upgrade Putney High Street’s bus fleet, rebranding it as a ‘low emission bus zone’ in March of this year, but concerns have been raised about older polluting diesel buses being swapped onto other local routes, rather than being upgraded or replaced with cleaner models.

The council has also made improvements to Putney High Street’s layout and traffic signals to ease queuing, and a ban on delivery vehicles stopping to unload has been introduced to reduce congestion further.

Deputy council leader Jonathan Cook said:

“These provisional results are encouraging but our goal is to meet the EU pollution limit and we’re not there yet. It looks like our campaign to ban polluting buses from Putney High Street has had a major impact and our ban on daytime deliveries could also be a significant factor is cutting the congestion which contributes to pollution build ups.

“However we can’t accept older polluting buses simply being switched to other routes and we want assurances from the Mayor that he has stopped this divisive policy. Trading one community’s health for another’s is wrong and we want to be sure that polluting buses are being taken off our streets altogether.”

Wandsworth Council argues that removing diesel buses from London’s streets should be the top priority for the Mayor of London’s air quality strategy.

The council is now pushing for the removal of high emission buses from other pollution hotspots within the borough, including Clapham Junction and Tooting where buses represent a high proportion of the traffic flow. 

How Wandsworth proved buses were the main pollution source

In 2009 Wandsworth Council installed its first air quality monitoring station on Putney High Street to develop an evidence base around the high street’s suspected pollution issue.

In 2011 the council installed a combination of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and video traffic counts on the street. The data collected was cross referenced with air quality readings to determine the exhaust emissions from each vehicle type for each hour of the day.

This unique study identified London buses as a major contributor to emissions of nitrogen dioxide.

In 2012 Wandsworth published this unique evidence base and worked with the Putney Society to lobby the Mayor and TfL for new investment in buses running down Putney High Street.

In October 2012 the Mayor and TfL started to upgrade the Putney fleet. 

In July 2014 a report by King’s College London confirmed pollution levels dropped as a result of the investment in green bus technology.

Following further interventions by the council and Mayor of London, King’s College London confirmed pollution level have dropped by more than anywhere else in London.

In 2017 the current Mayor agreed to make Wandsworth a low emission bus zone.