…AND IT’S NOT GOOD.  Local campaigner Martin Sheppard explains how the construction of HS2 is going to blight our already poor air quality: 

“Air pollution, greatly exceeding the legal limit and killing thousands of people each year, is the most pressing problem facing London. Reducing air pollution is an urgent and obvious task, as recognised by the new Mayor of London, who has made it his first priority.

HS2’s plans for construction will, however, raise air pollution in Euston and Camden. Astonishingly, to date HS2 has failed to measure air quality in Euston and Camden other than by unreliable extrapolation. Yet its plans, which are bound to increase air pollution, will cause avoidable deaths. Even if other measures start to reduce air pollution, this reduction must not be lost to new pollution.

Air pollution, from nitrous dioxide and particulates, is an established killer. Nine thousand five hundred people die from its effects every year in London alone. Besides causing deaths, air pollution has a major impact on the overall health of all Londoners. Everyone is adversely affected. Air pollution leads to increased hospital admissions, more A & E attendances, more visits to GPs, additional medication, numerous minor symptoms and a slow but irreversible impairment of the lungs. It lowers life expectancy by an average of six months. It makes London a dangerous city in which to live. NO2 alone is a killer on the scale of smoking. It kills far more people than traffic accidents. That it is invisible makes it all the more terrifying.

Camden has some of the worst air quality in London. London has the worst NO2 levels in the world. The pollution on the Euston Road is two and half times the legal limit and five times the safe limit. Many other sites in Camden, particularly along the major road arteries, are well above the legal limit. Even the legal limit is itself twice the safe limit. Few places in Camden are below the safe limit, which is exceeded even on Hampstead Heath.

The principal cause of lethal air pollution in London is NO2 from diesel-fuelled engines. It is not the only cause, as petrol-fuelled engines, cooking, heating, lighting and Non Road Mobile Machinery are also contributors to both NO2 and particulate pollution. Reducing the number of diesel-fuelled vehicles as rapidly as possible is clearly the first priority, though many other measures, including expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone, need to be put in place. There is no time for delay.

It is against this background that the threat of HS2 to Euston and to Camden must be assessed. HS2’s plans will turn Euston, and much of Camden, into the biggest inner-city construction site in Europe. Although its final plans are still highly uncertain, HS2’s works are likely to last for twenty years, involving major demolition, the removal of millions of tons of spoil, multiple road closures, disruption to public transport, and thousands of HGV and other vehicle movements every day. Plans for spoil removal by HGV via the Euston Road will greatly increase pollution near Euston itself. Thousands of residents, including the elderly, the ill and children, will be condemned to live inside or close to massive and polluting construction sites for twenty years without regard to their health and without compensation.

Despite the severity of the problem of air pollution, which have become increasingly obvious, HS2 has scandalously failed to address the issue with appropriate seriousness. After six years of planning, and many thousands of pages of extrapolated but questionable predictions, HS2 has totally failed to establish a Scientific Baseline for air pollution in Camden. This has been despite the fact that it has been repeatedly asked to do so by residents. Residents’ own measurements of air quality across the borough make the high levels of pollution very clear.

With the High Speed Bill about to be considered by the House of Lords, HS2 is still not in a position to state the current air pollution levels. It has indeed yet to seek permission from Camden to put up diffusion tubes in the coming months. As diffusion tubes are notorious for providing approximate rather than exact measurements, it is extraordinary that HS2 is unwilling to deploy real-time, automatic measuring equipment across the borough. Even then HS2 plans only to take measurements over six months, when the known variations due to seasonality clearly demand a full year’s measurement. At present, for even the most polluted areas of Euston, HS2 cannot provide scientifically accurate air-quality measurements.

Bringing air pollution under control as soon as possible is an absolute priority, if unnecessary deaths are to be avoided. Not only must the levels of NO2 and particulate pollution in Camden be brought down without delay, anything that will increase the levels of NO2 and particulate pollution must be prevented. Even if the NO2 and particulate levels can be reduced in future across London, including at Euston and in Camden, this is no excuse for allowing any reductions to be lost immediately to new pollution, knowingly caused, on the grounds that the resulting level of pollution is not more than it was before the reductions were achieved.”