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Air quality in London

Air Quality 1

Our research has shown Londoners are increasingly concerned about about the impact air pollution is having on their health. Read the research.

London's local authorities are taking the lead in delivering air quality projects but they need support and funding. Read more about what boroughs are doing to tackle air pollution. 

Our focus

We provide a single voice for London’s local authorities on air quality issues. Our aim is to support London's boroughs to ensure that they have the tools they need to improve London's air quality. We submit evidence to consultations and contribute to policy development research in collaboration with London's boroughs. We are represented on the London Air Quality Steering Group, alongside borough sub-regional lead officers, the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and the Environment Agency.

AirQuality_- children, choice in schools

Air quality rating in London

Updated in real time by Kings College, London

Read the research

Our research


Nearly half of Londoners feel their health has been impacted by poor air quality, according to research commissioned by London Councils. The public polling sought to gauge the public’s understanding of air quality issues, and the impact it has on their lives. This briefing provides an overview of the findings.


London Councils Air quality polling
London Councils carried out the first specific air quality polling to find out how much Londoners know about pollution and the impact it has on their lives. 1,000 Londoners took part in its online research. Below are some of the key findings.


Three quarters of respondents (76%) said they agreed tackling air quality should be a priority issue, with 38% strongly agreeing. This rises to 84% among those who are newer to London, 85% of those who cycle, 79% of those who use public transport and 83% those whose health is affected by air quality. In general, there were high levels of awareness overall amongst the public, reflecting the growing profile of air quality as an issue in London, and around the world. It was highest among:
•    Those who cycle.
•    Those who use public transport.
•    Those whose health is affected.

Causes of pollution

Private vehicles, vans and Lorries were seen as some of the main causes of pollution, followed by delivery vehicles and taxis/private hire vehicles. Nearly a quarter of people think air pollution blown in from the continent is another one of the main causes of air pollution. Longer term residents (5+ years) consider road transport to be one of the main causes, more so than newer residents.

Awareness of GLA air quality service

Less than a quarter of respondents had heard of the GLA’s air quality advice service. Of the people who didn’t use the service a third would consider using it, and over half said they would find it useful.


Nearly half of respondents said poor air quality had had a direct impact on their health, with asthma, breathing difficulties and coughing being the most frequently reported symptoms. People aged 25-34, those who live in inner London, and those who cycle or use public transport and those with children felt most affected. 

Impact on decision making

39% of people said air quality impacted on decisions they made regarding their health.

Nearly a quarter of people (22%) say air quality affects their choice of school for their children. When asked if their children’s health had been affected by air pollution, 12% of respondents said yes.

Air Quality 2

Over a third of people say air quality affects where they choose to live in London. People aged 16-44, as well those with children, and those from a BAME background were more likely to say this.

Over a quarter of people said they changed their behaviour on days when air pollution is high. People aged 55+ were more likely to stay indoors.

Just over a third say it affects their decisions when deciding their commuting preferences. Over half of respondents use public transport as their main commute – this is across all ages apart from those of retirement age. Those from a BAME background are more likely to use it for commuting, as are those who live in inner London. 

Nearly half of people questioned said they would change their transport habits in order to improve air quality. Actions people were willing to take included walking/cycling more, followed by using public transport more, and reducing the number of car journeys they make. A quarter would choose a cleaner model of car, while only 9% would pay more to drive in London. 

Car Ownership by engine type

Less than 0.5% of respondents who owned a private vehicle owned a fully electric model. This is in contrast to 69% owning petrol, 25% owning diesel, and 5% owning a hybrid model.

Transport modes

71% of people in the survey said they didn’t cycle in London. Of the people who did, 12% cycle as part of their commute. These cycle commuters are more likely to be male, younger and living in inner London. Over half of people who cycle say that high air pollution negatively influences their decision to ride, especially those whose health is affected. 

London Councils’ positions

Alongside the earlier stated aims of this research, London Councils hopes that it will flag concerns of Londoners and ensure air quality gains more attention and traction from key decision makers. 

London Councils and boroughs have a key role in tackling the issue and putting it front and centre of the capital agenda for improvement. London Councils supports a number of measures to tackle air pollution. We support the early implementation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) (in 2019) to ensure that the benefits of this policy are manifested as soon as possible for London residents. We also support, in principle, plans for an expanded ULEZ beyond the current Congestion Charge Zone, although this would need to be done in coordination with the boroughs to identify the best possible boundary route. We seek assurances from TfL that any surplus income from the ULEZ and emissions surcharge will be ring fenced and used for measures that improve air quality standards in London, for example investment in electric buses, electric taxis, electric charging points or more sustainable modes of transport, especially walking and cycling.

Related to this, we believe the government needs to review financial incentives, such as Vehicle Excise Duty, so as to encourage the take up of the lowest polluting vehicles to reflect concern for both CO2 and NO2 emissions. Linked to this are plans for a diesel scrappage scheme in London, but also nationally, which London Councils support despite recent government rejections of this proposal.

Another key priority of the new Mayor is to encourage modal shift. We believe that plans to increase in modal shift to more active and sustainable modes of transport is key to London reducing air pollution, but also providing a raft of other benefits to its residents. As the polling shows, residents are willing to change their travel behaviour. Additionally, we support increased investment in cycling infrastructure as this will help people feel comfortable to cycle in London, whilst making it more convenient, where this might not have been the case before. We encourage TfL to work with individual boroughs and sub-regional groups to ensure that the best possible solutions can be applied in different contexts across London. 

Nationally we call for the national government to ensure that EU air quality regulations and targets remain in place, or are strengthened, post-Brexit. With this in mind, we support calls for the government to draw up a new overarching Air Quality Strategy for tackling all air pollutants, produced by all sectors from transport and industry to energy and farming, with annual reports on progress.

You can see our submission to the first phase of the Mayor’s air quality consultation in the section directly below this.

Owain Mortimer, 020 7934 9832

The Mayor of London's air quality consultation

Phase 1

In July 2016 the Mayor of London announced the beginning of a three-phase consultation seeking Londoners on way his proposals to improve London's air quality.

The first phase of the consultation was an online survey on general ideas to tackle the issue of air pollution. London Councils set out its views on the ULEZ, diesel scrappage scheme and emissions surcharge. Our full response can be read here

Phase 2

The second phase was a statutory consultation to intorduce the Emissions Surcharge, and a non-statutory consultation on the details around the proposed ULEZ. London Councils noted its support for the Emissions Surcharge and commented on the details of the scheme, including on the planned exemptions and operating times. Read the full response here.

Phase 3

The third phase of the consultation is split into two sections, 3a and 3b. Phase 3a consulted on bringing the start date of the ULEZ forward five months to April 2019. It also sought to strengthen the emission standards to include particulate matter (PM) alongside nitrogen dioxide (NO2). You can view London Councils' response here. Phase 3b will look to consult on the expansion of the ULEZ beyond the central Congestion Charge Zone and is expected to be launched in winter 2017.

Defra's Air Quality Plan (2017)

Defra's Air Quality Plan (2017)

In May Defra published its new draft National Air Quality plan entitled ‘Tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities’. This is following the UK Supreme Court ruling for a 2nd time that the initial plan was not legally acceptable.

The main points in the document are:

  • London Councils raises concerns with the Defra air quality plan. The plan lacks details of any central government action to address air quality issues, and instead places most of the responsibility on local authorities without providing any commitment or detail around additional funding support.
  • The response re-iterates London Councils’ support for changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and also suggests changes to company car taxes as well, to disincentivise people from buying the most polluting vehicles.
  • London Councils calls on the government to introduce a new Clean Air Act, to ensure that the UK’s legal pollution limit values match, or improve upon, the EU’s regulations.

Our full response can be found here.

Defra's Air Quality Plan (2015)

In November 2015 Defra consulted on draft plans to improve air quality, in response to the recent UK Supreme Court ruling that the UK government needs to deliver a new plan on how to tackle breaches of EU air quality standards. 

The main points we raised in our consultation response were: 

  • The proposals do not strike an appropriate balance between national and local action.  The Government should give more consideration to what can be achieved through national policy, legislation and financial instrument
  • The government should undertake a full review, across departments, of the ways in which it is able to drive improvements in air quality.  We suggest that action should be considered in the areas of transport, planning and energy efficiency.
  • The Government must work with other EU Member States to ensure that Euro 6 vehicles are meeting the required emissions reductions in real world driving conditions. 
  • A strategic approach to the identification of Clean Air Zones is required.
  • The Government should provide support to reduce emissions related to the existing operations of nationally important infrastructure that is located in London, such as Heathrow Airport.

Our response, which can be read here, sets out a series of actions for government. 

London Local Air Quality Management (LLAQM)

London Local Air Quality Management (LLAQM)

In September 2015 the Mayor consulted on proposals to implement a new framework for London's local authorities to follow when monitoring and planning actions to improve air quality and reduce exposure.  This has the objective of reducing bureaucracy to enable local authorities to focus on taking action.  London Councils' response supported this objective but questioned whether all of the proposals were consistent with it.  We want to see the Mayor work with those boroughs that consider that the proposal would increase the reporting burden to ensure that it doesn't divert resources away from taking action to improve air quality.

Response to the 2014 Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on action on air quality

Response to the 2014 Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on action on air quality

In autumn 2014 the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee issued a call for evidence on air quality. Our response included three recommendations for how government can better support local authorities in improving air quality:

  1. Government should prioritise investment for air quality improvement measures in London and the other core cities, to have the maximum impact on the overall UK targets and thus minimise the risk of EU fines.
  2. Government should work with local authorities to develop a clear set of agreed priorities and targets including, where appropriate, through retention of Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and Air Quality Action Plans (AQAPs). Government should work with the Greater London Authority and London’s local authorities to develop a London-specific system for air quality management.
  3. Government should set out clearly the roles and responsibilities for government departments, agencies, regional bodies and local authorities so that each tier of government knows what they are expected to deliver and duplication of effort is minimised.

It also clearly sets out our position regarding the ability of government, under the Localism Act 2011, to transpose European financial sanctions to local authorities, which we believe to be unfair, unreasonable and disproportionate.

The response contains a series of case studies highlighting the work boroughs are doing to improve air quality in London.

The committee published its report in December 2014.  The government responded to it in March 2015.

Lobbying Government

Lobbying Government

In August 2013, we wrote to the government, along with the Mayor of London, to request it takes additional steps to help the capital deliver further improvements to air quality.

The letter represents an emerging consensus about the need for further targeted action to meet EU limit values for nitrogen dioxide and to continue to reduce levels of particulate matter to protect human health and support economic growth.

View a copy of the reply to London Councils' and the Mayor's letter from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

View a copy of the reply to London Councils' and the Mayor's letter from the Secretary of State for Transport.