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How air pollution shaped the capital

Thankfully the days of London’s ‘pea souper’ fogs are well and truly behind us, but last month the UK experienced some of the highest levels of air pollution seen for a long time. A blend of local and European emissions, combined with dust blown in from the Sahara, led DEFRA (Department for Food, Agriculture & Rural Affairs) to issue its highest level of pollution warning – 10 – to parts of London, the South East and the Midlands. Today, this is a rare occurrence. Over the last 10 years, there have been just 59 days when such a high reading has been recorded. 93% of daily pollution figures across the country register as being low to moderate and, even in London, the average daily pollution level just edges into the moderate category at 3.4. The clean air act of 1956 was passed in the wake of London’s Great Smog of 1952, which led to an additional 12,000 deaths being reported in the space of just two days. The legislation had a profound impact on the city’s pollution levels and today the air in London is far cleaner than it was even a generation ago. This is not the case in other areas of the world. In China’s major cities for example, pollution levels are rising, with 92% of the country’s urban centres having average annual air pollution levels which fail to meet the national standard (35 micrograms per cubic metre). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), London pollution levels are significantly lower than those seen in Asia and the Middle East (see table 1).   Table 1 - Air pollution levels across the world   Air pollution London 29 Paris 38 Moscow 33 Abu Dhabi 117 Mumbai 132 Beijing 121 Hong Kong 50   Source: WHO - micrograms per cubic metre   The capital has much to thank the planners for. As London grew, parkland and open spaces were kept free of development. Today London is the greenest of any European capital, with over 35,000 acres of public open space. In comparison, in the rapidly expanding cities of Mumbai and Shanghai, less than 3% of land has been given over to public green spaces (40% in London). While the days of the ‘pea souper’ are behind us, they have left their legacy in shaping the growth of many of the country’s urban centres. In London, for example, the wealthy historically chose to live in areas high above the polluted industrial centre in places such as Hampstead and Primrose Hill or even to the west of the city, well clear of the prevailing winds which blew pollution eastwards. Today pollution plays little part in the buying decisions of Londoners but interestingly the price premiums between the west and east are a lasting legacy. An example of this can be seen when comparing Hammersmith & Fulham in the west to Hackney in the east. Prices in Hammersmith & Fulham are, on average, 30% higher than in Hackney. However, clean air across the capital has meant that areas once considered less attractive in which to live are no longer blighted and, over the last few decades, prices in these areas have been steadily rising. Over the last 12 months, east London boroughs have seen significant price growth and in many cases have outperformed their counterparts in the west. Of London’s eastern boroughs, Hackney and Waltham Forest saw the highest growth in prices over the last 12 months, with values rising in excess of 20% (Hackney 21.5% and Waltham Forest 20.1%). Interestingly, the industrial legacy left by former factories in places such as Shoreditch has led to the development of sought-after converted apartments where city professionals can enjoy loft living. And in the Victorian streets of east London, built to house the capital’s workforce, young families and first time buyers are now eager to set up home.

Pollution_blog graphic_v1

Thankfully the days of London’s ‘pea souper’ fogs are well and truly behind us, but last month the UK experienced some of the highest levels of air pollution seen for a long time. A blend of local and European emissions, combined with dust blown in from the Sahara, led DEFRA (Department for Food, Agriculture & Rural Affairs) to issue its highest level of pollution warning – 10 – to parts of London, the South East and the Midlands. Today, this is a rare occurrence. Over the last 10 years, there have been just 59 days when such a high reading has been recorded. 93% of daily pollution figures across the country register as being low to moderate and, even in London, the average daily pollution level just edges into the moderate category at 3.4.

The clean air act of 1956 was passed in the wake of London’s Great Smog of 1952, which led to an additional 12,000 deaths being reported in the space of just two days. The legislation had a profound impact on the city’s pollution levels and today the air in London is far cleaner than it was even a generation ago.

This is not the case in other areas of the world. In China’s major cities for example, pollution levels are rising, with 92% of the country’s urban centres having average annual air pollution levels which fail to meet the national standard (35 micrograms per cubic metre). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), London pollution levels are significantly lower than those seen in Asia and the Middle East (see table 1).

 

Table 1 - Air pollution levels across the world
  Air pollution
London 29
Paris 38
Moscow 33
Abu Dhabi 117
Mumbai 132
Beijing 121
Hong Kong 50
 

Source: WHO - micrograms per cubic metre

 

The capital has much to thank the planners for. As London grew, parkland and open spaces were kept free of development. Today London is the greenest of any European capital, with over 35,000 acres of public open space. In comparison, in the rapidly expanding cities of Mumbai and Shanghai, less than 3% of land has been given over to public green spaces (40% in London).

While the days of the ‘pea souper’ are behind us, they have left their legacy in shaping the growth of many of the country’s urban centres. In London, for example, the wealthy historically chose to live in areas high above the polluted industrial centre in places such as Hampstead and Primrose Hill or even to the west of the city, well clear of the prevailing winds which blew pollution eastwards.

Today pollution plays little part in the buying decisions of Londoners but interestingly the price premiums between the west and east are a lasting legacy. An example of this can be seen when comparing Hammersmith & Fulham in the west to Hackney in the east. Prices in Hammersmith & Fulham are, on average, 30% higher than in Hackney.

However, clean air across the capital has meant that areas once considered less attractive in which to live are no longer blighted and, over the last few decades, prices in these areas have been steadily rising. Over the last 12 months, east London boroughs have seen significant price growth and in many cases have outperformed their counterparts in the west. Of London’s eastern boroughs, Hackney and Waltham Forest saw the highest growth in prices over the last 12 months, with values rising in excess of 20% (Hackney 21.5% and Waltham Forest 20.1%).

Interestingly, the industrial legacy left by former factories in places such as Shoreditch has led to the development of sought-after converted apartments where city professionals can enjoy loft living. And in the Victorian streets of east London, built to house the capital’s workforce, young families and first time buyers are now eager to set up home.

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