Nearly half of marginal battlegrounds afflicted by illegal levels of air pollution

Publication date: 1st June 2017

Nearly half of the key marginal seats in the 2017 general election are in areas affected by illegal levels of roadside air pollution, an analysis by the Greenpeace investigations unit has found.

51 of the 111 seats where the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats came a close second in the last election breach legal limits for nitrogen dioxide air pollution according to an analysis of government data [1].

Some of the seats with the lowest Conservative majorities are among the areas worst affected by air pollution, including Derby North and Croydon Central and the outer London constituencies of Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham [2].

In addition, some constituencies where the Conservatives hope to make big gains against Labour are also among those worst affected by roadside pollution, including areas of London, the West Midlands and Yorkshire [3].

Anna Jones, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Our dirty air is a national scandal, and voters want to know the next government is going to make tackling it a priority. People all over the country are feeling the effects of illegal air pollution coming from our roads. From heart disease to dementia, it seems like scientists are discovering air pollution is linked to an ever-expanding range of chronic and life-threatening conditions. This is a crisis that cannot be ignored, no matter how much some politicians want to pretend it isn’t happening.”

Levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK have broken legal limits every year since 2010, and the UK’s toxic air has been described as a public health emergency.

The government published its long-awaited air quality plan on 5 May, after losing a battle in the High Court to delay publication until after the election. It was received with widespread condemnation for being a woefully inadequate response to the crisis, and for ‘passing the buck’ to Local Authorities. And just days ago, it was confirmed the government will face further legal action over ‘major flaws’ in these new proposals.

Despite government concerns that action on air pollution would be a vote-loser, a recent poll found the majority of the public is now in favour of banning the most-polluting vehicles from city centres.

Anna continued: “To tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis, we need to tackle diesel vehicles. Even the newest diesel cars on our roads are pumping out a lot more pollution than is allowed. The car companies are cheating emissions tests, and now we’re paying the price with our health.” 

Greenpeace is calling for the car industry to ditch diesel, and switch to electric, and for government to support urgent transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles.

Diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of the poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from roads [4].

Following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal that rocked the car industry in 2015, it’s come to light that car companies have been knowingly breaking air pollution standards.

Despite some moves to alter testing regulations and ‘fix’ some of the cars, two-thirds of the newest EURO 6 diesel cars still aren’t meeting emissions standards in real world conditions. And some new diesel cars emit 15 times more toxic pollution than they are supposed to.


Notes to editors:

[1] 51 marginal seats with illegal levels of air pollution include: Bermondsey and Old Southwark; Birmingham, Edgbaston; Bolton West; Brentford and Isleworth; Bristol East; Bristol North West; Broxtowe; Burnley; Bury North; Calder Valley; Cardiff North; Carshalton and Wallington; Colne Valley; Coventry North West; Coventry South; Croydon Central; Derby North; Dewsbury; Ealing Central and Acton; Edinburgh North and Leith; Edinburgh West; Eltham; Enfield North; Halesowen and Rowley Regis; Halifax; Hampstead and Kilburn; Harrow East; Harrow West; Hendon; Ilford North; Keighley; Kingston and Surbiton; Morley and Outwood; Newcastle-Under-Lyme; Northampton North; Northampton South; Peterborough; Plymouth, Moor View; Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport; Pudsey; Southampton, Itchen; Southampton, Test; Stoke-On-Trent South; Sutton and Cheam; Tooting; Twickenham; Wakefield; Walsall North; Warrington South; Westminster North; Wolverhampton South West.

Methodology: To identify the constituencies worst affected by air pollution, Greenpeace first broke up the government’s roadside air pollution modelling for 2015 by constituency boundaries, to identify the seats with roads breaching the legal limit.

(The modelling used is the latest available national modelling of roadside NO2 pollution. It was released last autumn, and is for the calendar year 2015. The government has since conducted  air pollution modelling for this and future years to inform its latest air quality plan. However, it has not published the full modelled data, it has only released summary figures for the 75 local authority areas – including London- that are still expected to be breaching legal limits for NO2 pollution in 2017.)

We then cropped our list of constituencies with breaching roads to remove any constituencies that did not sit within one of the 75 local authority areas listed in the 2017 plan.

This methodology identified 253 constituencies that were breaching the legal limit (on at least one road) in 2015, and which sit within local authority areas that are breaching the legal limit in 2017.

Of those 253 seats, the majority (151, or 59.7%) were won by Labour in 2015. 88 went to the Conservative Party, 13 to the SNP, and one to the Liberal Democrats.

For the purposes of this analysis, Greenpeace defined marginal seats as the constituencies where the Conservatives, Labour, or the Liberal Democrats were beaten in 2015 with a majority of less than 10%.

[2] Some of the seats with the lowest Tory majorities are also among the areas worst affected by roadside NO2 pollution, including Derby North and Croydon Central (where Labour lost in 2015 by just 41 and 165 votes respectively) and the outer London constituencies of Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham (where the Conservatives beat the Liberal Democrats in 2015 with majorities of less than 5%).

[3] The list of constituencies affected by illegal levels of roadside NO2 pollution includes London seats the Tories will be hoping to take from Labour in 2017, such as Brentford and Isleworth (where Labour beat the Conservatives in 2015 by just 465 votes, or a majority of 0.8%), Ealing Central and Acton (Labour majority of 274 votes, or 0.5%), and Westminster North (Labour majority of 1,977, or 5%). All three constituencies had at least 15km of roads breaching legal NO2 limits in 2015 (according to latest available government modelling), and at least one hotspot where NO2 levels were more than 1.5 or more than two times the legal limit.

That list also includes marginal constituencies in regions of the West Midlands and Yorkshire where the Tories hope to make big gains against Labour, such as Birmingham Edgbaston (Labour majority of 2,706, or 6.6%), Halifax (Labour majority of 428, or 1%), and Stoke-on-Trent South (Labour majority of 2,539, or 6.5%).

[4] Analysis of statistics from DEFRA. Source: DEFRA