Kings College research shows better air quality and more active travel

With little more than half of the borough’s Mini Holland programme completed, research undertaken by King’s College London indicates better air quality will see today’s five-year-olds living for an extra six weeks thanks to air quality improvements since 2013. Their air quality report estimates that Waltham Forest residents could gain 40,000 years of human life in the coming century.
Researchers found that in 2017, 6,300 Waltham Forest households were exposed to more than the EU recommended guidelines for  NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) which is a highly significant improvement over 58,000 households suffering back in 2007.

The evidence just keeps stacking up for Mini Holland with research published in June 2018 by Dr Rachel Aldred on behalf of the University of Westminster. Her report shows that people living in the three Mini-Holland boroughs (Waltham Forest, Enfield & Kingston) are becoming more physically active year on year spending an extra 32 minutes per week walking, or 9 minutes a week cycling. Dr Aldred and her colleagues were surprised to find measurable change so early in our Mini Holland programme which has another two years to run. By making car use for short trips a little less attractive we can get more people walking & cycling, which frees up road capacity for those who have little choice but to drive, such as those with mobility impairments.

Whilst some may experience personal inconvenience because their driven trips could take a little longer, many appreciate the social justice implications of unfettered car use and the need to consider what’s best from the collective public interest perspective. Half of households in the southern part of Waltham Forest have no access to a car and thus experience few of the benefits, but suffer all the downsides – including the fear of road danger whenever they leave their homes, and the impact of life limiting air pollution. So far public health professionals have been seemingly unable to combat the relentless rise in obesity and inactivity with  its spiraling NHS costs. I believe Waltham Forest is leading the way in demonstrating that courageous and meaningful measures have the potential to deliver huge benefits for local communities.

The explosive growth in car use over the past 50 years is a major factor in driving climate change, so Mini Holland is also showcasing how communities can adopt more sustainable travel patterns.
Across the globe cities like London are struggling to deal with crippling road network congestion, casualties & pollution with their immense economic costs, but few are able to identify & deliver affordable solutions. That’s why our borough is getting visits every week from MPs, councillors, community groups, council officers and NGOs from across the UK, wanting to understand how its done.

Of course the programme isn’t perfect – changes on this scale will always be controversial. And there are a number of issues which need to be resolved, and many will be with continued political will and support from Transport for London.

Overall this is a huge step in the right direction which few in power seem brave enough to take, so I’m proud to live in a borough where its leadership is prepared to put doing what’s right ahead of risking short term popularity.

Paul Gasson

This opinion piece first appeared in the Sep 2018 edition of the  Waltham Forest Echo

Full reports here:

A further report was published by Kings College after this article was written, showing gains in life expectancy by at least 7 months from Waltham Forest residents walking and cycling (which has increased recently), which equates to a gain of around 204,000 life years for the borough’s population over a lifetime.

The study also looked at the impact of projections in increased walking and cycling during the school run in the borough (partially due to behaviour change following the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme). Assuming the largest increase in school run walking and cycling, there would be a gain in life expectancy of three weeks.

The full report is here:

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