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Will London always have an air quality problem?

On the 5th June, Hilson Moran’s Kathryn Wooley will be taking part in the Institute of Civil Engineer’s Big Debate. Considering the question – A growing city is a polluting city: Will London always have an air quality problem? Kathryn will be making the case that, unfortunately, we will.

Air pollution is one of London’s greatest environmental challenges. Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions from road transport, domestic and commercial gas use, aviation and construction have led to a significant health risk to those living, visiting and working in the city. Up to 9,400 Londoners died prematurely due to toxic air in 2010 and the Capital continues to breach EU legal limits.

Some say that as a growing city, predicted to have 11 million residents by 2050, London will always face air quality issues. More people travelling around the city, increasing congestion on the road, a reliance on gas boilers in old building stock and high levels of construction activity have all contributed to poor air quality and are unlikely to change. Perhaps we have to accept that a growing city will always be a polluting city and instead focus our efforts on changing lifestyles to reduce exposure to pollutants. We can do this through monitoring pollution and keeping people away from the most polluted streets on days of particularly poor air quality.

On the other hand, some say that we can solve the problem. Through a mixture of incentives, such as vehicle scrappage schemes and disincentives, such as road user charges, we can have a city where growth does not come at the expense of the environment. We can change our construction methods, replace the most polluting vehicles and gas boilers and make new developments greener. It may take time, but with the correct policies, greater public awareness and buy-in from different sectors, London could finally solve its air quality problem.

The ICE London G&S Big Debate will present both sides of the argument, before asking you, the audience, who was most persuasive.


Professor Peter Hansford, Chair of Construction and Infrastructure Policy, UCL



Kathryn Woolley, Senior Air Quality Consultant, Hilson Moran

Tim Chatterton, Senior Research Fellow, University of West England


Simon Birkett, Founder and Director, Clean Air in London

Rob Rule, Group Business Development Director, Hexadex

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