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Something in the air

The idea of fresh air is now very much an urban myth in parts of the UK 


When I attended a Philips Lighting event and the reality of the urban underground farm was presented, I felt a sense of wonder mixed with a great deal of unease.


Yes, it makes sense that food can be grown in the basement of a department store in the middle of town. Yes, it’s great that it’s organic and thanks to technology there is little waste with food not spoiled by bugs and inclement weather. It makes absolute sense to grow food right in the middle of town to cut down on food miles and freight congestion. The potential speeds of farm to fork are nearly as quick as growing your five a day on your balcony.

Yet, it’s hard to dismiss the idea of the outdoors, of the elements of fresh air. And there’s the uncomfortable rub, the idea of fresh air feels like it’s becoming an urban myth.

In London, where SCW has its HQ, the air quality is pretty much toxic. According to a Guardian news report last month, London exceeded its annual pollution limits just five days into this shiny, new year.

A fortnight ago Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan along with leaders of five UK cities affected by bad air pollution called on the government to take urgent action to clean up the UK’s toxic air.

According to information from the Mayor’s office, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Pediatrics and Child Health, estimate that 40, 000 people die prematurely because of air pollution. Bad air now of course, has also been linked to dementia.

The Mayoral office states that Sadiq Khan and leaders of Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton have written to government calling for the following:

• Making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions – with a zero-tolerance approach to malpractice;
• National minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles to ensure local requirements are not undermined;
• Greater regulation powers over the use of diesel generators;
• A new 21st century Clean Air act which will update existing legislation;
• Enshrining the ‘right to clean air’ in law after the UK leaves the European Union;
• Unlocking new powers for local authorities, with regards to construction and river emissions.


The letter describes the UK government’s current £3 million fund for local authorities to clean up their air as “woefully inadequate” and criticises the uncertainty around funding for transport schemes as this prevents long term planning.


It also underlines the fact air pollution is not a problem local authorities can solve alone, they need government to devolve powerful fiscal incentives such as Vehicle Excise Duty and create a national diesel vehicle scrappage fund.


The letter comes at a time when the UK consults on a new national air quality plan to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (the real killer from diesel vehicles), following the recent High Court ruling against the government’s previous plan which was deemed inadequate.


Our news highlights this week reflect some of the issues surrounding air pollution: congestion, innovations for solutions to solve this huge crisis and wellbeing.

Breath is life. It’s as simple as that. Whether your city is growing crops in underground bunkers, or giving you information about available parking spaces, or placing sensors in the homes of the elderly to keep them safe, the priority must be the very air that we breathe.


Melony Rocque

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