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Waltham Forest: Making our Mini Holland improved air quality

  • Comment

Poor air quality is a major public health issue and the figures are stark – 9,500 people die prematurely each year in London due to air pollution.

  • Project: Enjoy Waltham Forest
  • Objectives: To make the borough’s streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and encourage more active travel among residents, particularly for short local journeys
  • Timescale: Five years until March 2019
  • Cost to authority: £27m - funding bid secured from Transport for London
  • Number of staff working on project: 15
  • Outcomes: More than 22km of segregated cycle lanes have been delivered along routes across the borough, seven residential areas have been improved, additional cycle parking infrastructure has been installed and free cycle training has been delivered. According to the latest Department for Transport walking and cycling figures Waltham Forest is now second in London for the amount of walking residents do, and the most active outer London borough for cycling
  • Officer contact details: Michele Moloney or Madeline Gilford

There are no tried and tested methods for combatting this, but in 2014 Waltham Forest, alongside Enfield and Kingston, secured funding from Transport for London’s (TfL’s) Mini Holland fund charged with making our road infrastructure more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.

Enjoy Waltham Forest, as the project is now known, has since delivered an extensive infrastructure programme, including the installation of 22km of segregated cycle lanes, over 100 improved pedestrian crossings, the creation of 15 new pocket parks and the planting of more than 660 new trees.

Speed limits have also been reduced to 20mph in most residential roads and some main routes. In addition, the programme has delivered more secure cycle parking infrastructure including 250 Bikehangars, free cycle skills training, and bike hire to encourage more people to cycle regularly.

The changes we made have been controversial - often met with significant local opposition. It was important we were able to show their benefits. So earlier this year we commissioned a study by King’s College London to assess the impact.

The study and other independent analyses have now conclusively shown not only that life expectancy increased due to better air quality, but people are walking and cycling more due to the infrastructure changes.

Back in 2007, 58,000 households or around half in our borough were living in areas with emissions above acceptable levels. Last year the number dropped to just over 6,000.

A survey of people living in the three Mini-Holland boroughs also found people are walking an extra 32 minutes a week and cycling an average of nine extra minutes. These results collectively show that you can change people’s behaviour and improve people’s health through changes in infrastructure.

I was pleased recently to invite my London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet) colleagues to Waltham Forest to see the work we are doing to improve air quality. Our conversation focused on the importance of community buy-in (as well as that of the emergency services) and data, but also the need to understand and relate the costs and benefits of these issues to broader council priorities.

These projects are about whole system change, and LEDNet will be working with TfL and others going forward to secure the resources and support to bring forward more of these schemes.

The data we now have will help us concentrate our efforts in the areas where most harm is being caused. Children are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality.

The King’s College study found that around 14% of all emissions from 8am to 9am could be put down to the school run. We are working with schools and parents to ensure the next generation have fewer health problems caused by poor air quality.

Residents in our borough have told us that improving air quality is important to them. A recent London Councils’ poll showed that Londoners believe that tackling air pollution should be a priority.

We haven’t finished our work but knowing that what we are doing is helping means we can go forward with confidence, and ensure our residents will live longer, healthier lives.

Michele Moloney, strategic director of neighbourhoods and commercial services, Waltham Forest LBC; and air quality lead for the London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet)

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