Reclaiming Streets

Our clean air campaign, Reclaiming Streets, is all about getting safe air into our lungs.



DATE: Sunday 23 June

TIME: 12pm - 4pm

LOCATION: St Paul’s Way, Poplar

Our Reclaiming Streets stall will be hosting conversations with local residents about air quality locally, what the problem is and how we can work together to improve it - come and say hello!

There will also be lots of other activities, stalls, food and drink and a stage with live music - lots of enjoy.

This image is a brainstorm of people’s reactions to the festival in 2018, where for the first time we closed the street to traffic completely.

Why is air pollution a problem in Tower Hamlets?

Tower Hamlets has one of the highest rates of premature death due to air pollution in the whole country - the borough is 45% above the national average. In London, nearly 9,500 people die prematurely each year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Vulnerable groups including children are particularly badly affected by polluted air, and shockingly 75 out of 126 schools in Tower Hamlets are within 150m of illegally toxic air. You can find out more here.

Air pollution is a huge social inequality issue, with the poorest areas often suffering the worst air quality. Several areas of Tower Hamlets exceed EU limits of NO2 by more than double.

Finally, the World Health Organisation estimates the UK suffers £54 billion in costs associated with air pollution annually.

What are we doing about air pollution?


At a ‘Clean Air Café’ in September 2017, residents voted for the Reclaiming Streets, as a campaign that aims to prioritise road space in favour of pepole - for walking, cycling and shared activities - ultimately moving towards greater pedestrianisation and healthier streets. Vehicle emissions are the major source of air pollution in Tower Hamlets.

Working with local residents, Reclaiming Streets identified campaign outcomes for St Paul’s Way:

  • Improving air quality

  • Creating community spaces on the road

  • Greening the road

  • Safer and healthier transport

We want to work with local residents to achieve an improvement in air quality while promoting community activity and wellbeing. Anyone can get involved in the Reclaiming Streets campaign! Please drop us a line if you’d like to find out more:

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Air pollution on St Paul’s Way is well over legal levels, exposing local people - particularly children - to serious health risks

This image shows the results of our 2018 NO2 monitoring on St Paul’s Way

Other Clean Air campaigning

Tower Hamlets air quality action plan

Working with members of the local community, as well as councillors and Council Officers, we have submitted a detailed response to the draft Air Quality Action Plan in collaboration with Our Air Our Health. You can see the full table of amendments and recommendations here,  and a summary of our response here.

Major John Biggs (@MayorJohnBiggs) is the ultimate decision-maker on the plan, so let him know what you think! We have written to Mayor Biggs encouraging him to make sure the plan is given the high priority it needs to have an impact. We have also requested that members of the community can get involved in overseeing the implementation of the plan.

In the most recently reported NO2 results for Tower Hamlets, 62% of monitoring sites exceeded safe, legal limits, and 15% significantly exceeded air quality objectives. It is vital for the health and well-being of residents of Tower Hamlets that the new Air Quality Action Plan.


Silvertown Tunnel

We've taken action to oppose the Silvertown tunnel - a new river crossing near the Blackwall tunnel. We recognise the series issues that congestion at the Blackwall tunnel is causing to the health of people living near to it. But we're concerned that the assumptions underlying the proposed new Silvertown tunnel are not sound, and that it will not positively benefit people in Tower Hamlets and other affected boroughs.

In late 2016 we asked people to write to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, if they shared our concerns, which people did. We also got some media coverage in East End Citizen. We also took an active role in the planning process - if you would like to see our latest Written Representation published on the National Infrastructure Planning website here. You can see the main overview page for more information about the planning process.


local planning

Locally, we've been engaging with Tower Hamlets' new Local Plan - you can see our response here. There will be further consultation on the Local Plan in Summer 2017 - look out for how you can get involved nearer the time.



tackling dirty diesel

Nationally, Friends of the Earth is campaigning to reduce the devastating impact of air pollution. We are calling for:

  • A plan to end illegal air pollution in 2018

  • A diesel scrappage scheme to help people shift to clean vehicles

  • Changes to road tax to deter diesel use


What is air pollution?

Does it affect climate change?

Yes. Black carbon, a kind of particulate matter emitted especially from diesel vehicles, absorbs solar radiation and so has a warming effect.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) believes tackling air pollution could help cut global average temperatures by 0.5ºC, which could be crucial in the fight to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.








Any substance concentrated enough in our air to have harmful effects could qualify as air pollution. There are many harmful gases - sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, etc. - but in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, concern is focussed mainly on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM), particles so small that they act effectively as a gas. Although there are many sources, including construction, industrial activity and heating, the main source of both NO2 and PM is ground-based transport.

  • NO2 inflames the lungs, stunting their growth and increasing the risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer.

  • PM10, referring to particles less than 10 microns (millionths of a metre) in diameter, can accumulate in the respiratory system and can result in a number of health effects ranging from coughing and wheezing to asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes.

  • PM2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, can enter the cardiovascular system, with a range of adverse health impacts.