Asthma-hit pupils fight for 'bad air' road closures

Smog threat: Campaigners seek test case forcing council to divert traffic as school suffers high rates of illness


Home Affairs Correspondent

Children with asthma today begin a legal campaign to force a London council to close one of the country's most polluted roads when air quality is poor.

The children are applying for legal aid for a High Court test case, which if successful could compel other local authorities in smog-ridden cities to put the health of its residents before the convenience of the motorist.

The move follows a decision by Greenwich council's planning and development committee last week that it lacked the power to direct traffic away from Trafalgar Road in the south London borough - a route regularly clogged by nose-to-tail traffic - on bad air days.

Parents had applied to the council for the diversion after noticing their children's health deteriorate. Last May, when the hot, still weather caused serious pollution in the low-lying area, school helpers at the nearby Meridian primary school were trained in how to deal with children with respiratory problems because the teachers alone could not cope.

At the school, 40 yards off the road, the drone of the traffic invades the classrooms as well as the exhaust fumes. Twenty of the school's 200 children use inhalers - well above the average.

David Suttle, the headteacher, said all of the classes, catering from children aged three to 11, were affected.

"I believe something has to be done - not just because of the high levels of asthma, but because of the hidden long-term effects of pollution. I think the problem also has to be tackled nationally. It is not just Trafalgar Road, there are problems in other cities as well."

The most recent pollution report for the area showed that in 1993 one in eight children suffered from asthma and that 900 were admitted to hospital with respiratory illness - 36 per cent of those with acute asthma.

Parents say that on bad air days when ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels far exceeded health guidelines, their children's condition deteriorated. Pauline Gebbett, whose son James, 12, has asthma, described the choking congestion on the road in rush-hour as similar to that found in the nearby Blackwall Tunnel under the river Thames. "You would not drive through with your window open, would you?" she asked. "But for us there is no escape."

Parents and campaigners had suggested the council reroute traffic on bad air days via a higher more open route, Blackheath Hill, where they say fumes would clear more quickly. But last Wednesday councillors decided that not only did they lack the power to divert traffic, they would also be simply shifting the problem elsewhere.

Clive Efford, chair of Greenwich's health, environment and public protection committee said: "There can be no one in London who isn't worried about pollution and its effects on our children. But closing one road at best just moves the pollution to a neighbouring road and could be unlawful. One borough can't solve the problem on its own. What is needed is a London- wide strategy and new powers to tackle pollution."

However, Martyn Day, a solicitor acting for the families, said the council had powers under the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 to close the road when there was a danger to the public - and that the Department of Transport had advised Oxford council, facing similar problems, that the law might be used in those circumstances.

Yesterday Mr Day said the advice to councillors had been wrong in law. He is seeking emergency legal aid to bring a swift judicial review of the council's decision, because of the threat of more bad-air days this summer. Philip Connolly, secretary of Greenwich Action to Stop Pollution, said: "Greenwich council has been aware of the escalating problems of pollution and poor health for several years but they have failed to tackle the continuing growth in traffic. It must implement a sustainable transport policy - one that puts people's health first and not the needs of the private motorist."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power