London school heads welcome ULEZ and call for more action on air pollution
Headteachers: “We want our pupils to develop healthy brains, not unhealthy lungs”
The heads of 30 schools across London have welcomed the introduction of the Ultra-low Emission Zone (ULEZ) coming into force today and called on Sadiq Khan for further action to tackle the threat of air pollution.
In a strongly-worded letter to the London Mayor, headteachers have expressed their concerns about the growing number of scientific studies revealing the serious health damage air pollution can do to children’s health, from stunting lung development to causing asthma.
“Protecting our pupils’ welfare is not just one of our key duties but should also be an overriding priority for wider society,” write the headteachers. “We want our pupils to develop healthy brains, not unhealthy lungs.”
In a reference to the recent wave of climate strikes, they also argue that the “younger generation is already holding the older one to account for what it is and isn’t doing to address the issues that affect them the most” and that “any inconvenience caused to drivers by traffic restrictions pales in comparison to the harm air pollution is doing to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
The letter, coordinated by Greenpeace, comes amidst growing public concern for the impact of traffic fumes on pupils. Public Health England has proposed a ban on cars idling outside school gates as part of a series of measures to cut air pollution, while nearly two-thirds of teachers across the UK would support car-free roads outside schools during drop-off and pick-up time.
In 2017, a joint investigation by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, and the Guardian showed hundreds of thousands of UK school and nursery children could be exposed to illegal levels of toxic fumes, with many of them in London.
Commenting on the letter, Areeba Hamid, senior campaigner at Greenpeace UK said:
“The ULEZ will be one of those things our children look back at and think “why didn’t you do that sooner?”. It’s hard to sincerely question the positive impacts of a move that will cut toxic pollution at hundreds of our schools and in some of London’s most deprived communities.
“So the question now is, can the government step up to the challenge? Drivers need help moving from polluting cars to cleaner transport – it’s the government’s role to facilitate that. Equally, we need to see them be firmer on the end date for selling new petrol and diesel cars by opting for 2030 rather than 2040, which would help all towns and cities, not just London. This would have a real impact on both the air pollution and the climate emergencies.”
Read the letter in full here.