• A street in the heart of London’s financial district has banned petrol and diesel vehicles.
  • The aim is to bring nitrogen dioxide levels within guideline limits.
  • The 18-month trial will be used to consider similar plans for other streets.
  • Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, according to Public Health England.

One London street is taking extreme action against air pollution by banning all petrol and diesel cars.

Beech Street, in the heart of London’s financial district, will be restricted to zero-emission vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians by spring 2020, with exceptions made for emergency vehicles, access to car parks and for refuse collection and deliveries. The road, much of which runs underneath a housing estate, will participate in an initial trial for 18 months, while air quality and traffic are monitored.

“Drastically reducing air pollution requires radical actions, and these plans will help us eliminate toxic air on our streets,” said Jeremy Simons, chair of the City of London Corporation’s Environment Committee. “Nobody should have to breathe in dirty air.”

Road transport is responsible for around a fifth of UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to the country’s Office for National Statistics. While the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions fell by more than 30% from 1990 to 2017, emissions from road transport increased by 6% over the same period, it says.

Greenhouse gas emissions, total and road transport, UK (residency basis), 1990 to 2017
While emissions overall have gone down in the UK, vehicle emissions have risen.
Image: UK Office for National Statistics

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, according to Public Health England, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure. It has been linked to a range of diseases including coronary heart disease, strokes, respiratory disease and lung cancer.

And it’s a worldwide issue, with the World Health Organization estimating that more than 90% of the global population live in places where air quality levels exceed their recommended limits. London is among more than 30 cities that have signed the Fossil Fuel Free Streets Declaration, pledging to procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 and make a major area zero-emission by 2030.

Road traffic by vehicle type, Great Britain, 1990 to 2018
Road traffic is on the up in the UK.
Image: UK Office for National Statistics

And capitals around the globe, including Oslo, Madrid and Mexico City, have started to look at banning cars from their streets.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will also be key in the fight against global warming. Public Health England says governments and local authorities must take action to limit and mitigate air pollutants.

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The City of London Corporation’s plan aims to bring nitrogen dioxide levels on Beech Street within air-quality guidelines set out by the European Union and World Health Organization. After the trial, the corporation will decide whether similar measures are suitable for other streets.

“It will bring substantial health benefits,” says Oliver Sells, Streets and Walkways Committee Chairman. “The experimental scheme will be enforced using the latest in smart-camera technology and I hope it will be the first of many other schemes like this.”