London needs to clean up its act

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Oh the irony! Almost three years ago, I packed up my bags and bid goodbye to Beijing where I had been based as Time Out China’s Special projects editor.

I loved living in the Imperial City – in my mind one of the most exciting metropolises in the world, what with its historical sights such as The Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City rubbing shoulders with cutting edge architecture (the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium), and scores of wonderful restaurants catering to every palette and pocket.

However while Beijing was a dynamic place to call home, it could hardly be classed as a healthy one – thanks to the appalling air pollution. Subsequently despite sporting a pollution mask that made me look like the late, great Michael Jackson, I still managed to succumb to the Beijing cough – a hacking, lung ripping cough that left me gasping for breath on a daily basis.


After a year spent suffering from stinging eyes, I decided it was time to say zai jian (goodbye) to Beijing – or ‘Greyjing’ as we Beijingers referred to the city. I knew I would miss China – barely a day goes by when I don’t – but long term I couldn’t live somewhere where I had trouble breathing. And as a 21st century global citizen, I didn’t see why I should have to.

So I returned to London where life is cleaner. Or  rather was cleaner. Fast forward to 2014 and it turns out that London is, GULP, the most toxic town on the planet.

Researchers from my old stomping ground, King’s College London, have found nitrogen dioxode levels to be worse on London’s Oxford Street than anywhere else on earth.


“To my knowledge this is the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean. NO2 concentrations in Oxford Street are as high as they have ever been in the long history of air pollution,” said David Carslaw, who led the research.

That’s higher than both Beijing and Dhaka – another city notorious for its NO2 levels. Little wonder then that Labour has declared London to be very much in the grip of a “public health disaster”,

But Boris Johnson – London’s (mostly) loveable Mayor – doesn’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation. Indeed a spokesman for BoJo had the audacity to label the figures “misleading”.


Just About Travel’s Kaye Holland (right) wants a word with London’s mayor Boris Johnson (left)

Sorry Boris but you can’t blunder your way out of this one, with words. We deserve better: nitrogen dioxide triggers asthma and heart attacks and claims around 4,000 lives every year in London alone.

Action speaks louder than words. What is needed is an acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, followed by solutions so that Londoners can breathe again.

Just last week London was hailed as the “world’s favourite place to visit” by the Mastercard Global Cities Index report. High praise – but the capital won’t remain on top if it refuses to clean up its filthy air.

Bottom line? It won’t be easy but while the skyline remains hazy, so too does the future of London – and those of us who call the capital home.


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