The Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre development necessitated the destruction of the popular and much used sports pitches at Lancaster Green, which were replaced by additional sports pitches provided at the Westway Sports Centre, on a site between the Westway flyover and one of its’ exit ramps, which we in the Grenfell Action Group considered to be an unsuitable location, due partly to concerns we had about air quality at the site. At the meeting at which planning permission was granted for the KALC development, in September 2012, we voiced our concerns with support from local Labour Councillors and one Tory Councillor, Professor Sir Anthony Coates. As a result of this combined lobbying planning permission was granted on condition that air pollution levels would subsequently be monitored at the site. We had previously been told that there was no air quality monitoring at the Westway Sports Centre.
According to the Kensington Labour website the Council immediately reneged on this commitment which they deemed to be ‘non-binding’ and the monitoring never took place.
The Labour website continues;
“Kensington Labour Councillors and community groups tried to get the pollution levels (independently) tested, but it is a specialist task and it proved complex and expensive to undertake. Finally, a Citizen Science project, ‘Clean Up London Air’, led by a concerned local resident undertook the work, under the guidance of ‘Mapping for Change’ an academic project at University College London.”
The Grenfell Action Group was actively involved in this project which involved a ‘guerilla monitoring exercise’ using clandestinely installed diffusion tubes to record nitrogen dioxide levels at the site of the new MUGA’s during the month of July 2014. The data collected was then sent for analysis which revealed that the average nitrogen dioxide reading for July alone was 52.46µg/m3. This breached the average monthly level allowed by European law which is 40µg/m3 per month.
RBKC Labour Group Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad commented thus on these findings:
“This research confirms all our worst fears; air pollution near the sports pitch beside the Western Cross Route breaches EU safety levels by a wide margin. We cannot and dare not ignore this. We will be demanding immediate mitigation with green walls, as well as restating our commitment to a range of measures to improve air quality long-term, including the establishment of an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the borough. The Council cannot ignore such a serious health hazard, we need action now, and a plan for the future.”
Councillor Dent Coad, who had been assured by Council officers that “by a quirk of atmospheric pressure the area directly underneath the Westway does not have very bad air quality, as the pollution ‘drifts’ elsewhere” further remarked on her own personal blog that;
“K&C is insistent in its denial that locating sports pitches from the site of the new Kensington Academy to another next to West Cross Route will have any effect whatever on the health of our children.”
IMAGINE OUR CONSTERNATION, therefore, when we discovered recently, via a Freedom of Information request, that RBKC had secretly installed diffusion tubes to measure nitrogen dioxide levels at the replacement MUGA’s in the middle of 2013, and had been regularly collecting air quality data from that time onwards until late in 2014. This data revealed that the levels measured throughout this period breached the legal limits in every month, and frequently by a greater margin than the 52.46µg/m3 reported for July 2014 in the Mapping for Change study reported by ourselves and by Councillor Dent Coad.
Furthermore they had been negotiating with the Westway Trust since early 2013 in apparently fruitless attempts to reach agreement on the installation of ‘green screens’ to offer some measure of protection to users of the new MUGA’s. A number of stumbling blocks had bedevilled these negotiations, including an apparent reluctance to fund the project from either RBKC or Westway Trust coffers, and the Trust’s ambitions to build a new indoor complex in the same vicinity, right where the ‘green screens’ would need to be located. It is noteworthy also that only the provision of temporary ‘green screens’ was considered at the time, partly because only one year’s funding had been secured from the GLA, early in 2013, and partly because the Westway Trust were opposed to the installation of permanent screens. It is also worth noting that the funding streams that RBKC were attempting to exploit were intended solely for short term pilot projects the aims of which were to determine whether or not ‘green screens’ could significantly mitigate the health hazards from tailpipe emissions at hotspots on London’s road network.
As far as we are aware, despite the receipt of temporary GLA funding for the tax year 2013/2014, the ‘green screen’ plan was never implemented during the period in question, and appears now to have stalled indefinitely. It is also clear from the correspondence that neither RBKC nor Westway Trust had any intention of providing the necessary funding themselves, and RBKC were instead exploring the possibility of securing funding from the GLA and/or the Department for Transport.
That, it seems, is how little either organisation cared about the health and welfare of the school parties amd other young people using the MUGA’s.
Meanwhile, it seems that everyone who was not privy to the extensive communications between RBKC and the Westway Trust, was deliberately and cynically misled into believing that there had been no air quality monitoring at the Westway Sports Centre, because the Council believed such monitoring to be unnecessary, and also believed there were no significant air quality issues at the site.
We know that the Grenfell Action group was misled and deceived in this way whenever we raised our concerns on the issue, and it seems very clear that the Labour Group on the Council was similarly misled. Even the Tories own colleague, Councillor Professor Sir Anthony Coates, the only Tory councillor to express concerns about air quality on the site, appears to have been kept out of the loop and fed the same bullshit as the rest of us.
In fact a special report (ie fob-off) was prepared for his his benefit by the Head of Residential Services in Environmental Health. This report was clearly intended to minimise any suggestion of an air pollution problem at the site. It neglected to reproduce the actual data the Council had collected at the MUGA’s in question, and made no reference to the voluminous email exchanges with the Westway Trust throughout 2013/2014 documenting ongoing attempts to negotiate the provision of ‘green screens’ to partially protect the site, which the Council perversely continued to assert posed no health risk to its’ users, including the many school parties and other young people regularly using the new MUGA’s.
This sorry episode is strongly indicative of a serious lack of candour, transparency and integrity at both RBKC and the Westway Trust. Council officers insisted repeatedly that there was no air pollution problem at the new MUGA’s, although it is very clear from the documents in our possession that they didn’t really know, but strongly suspected, that there might well be air pollution issues. As a result they secretly conducted a testing programmme which clearly showed that the legal NO2 limits were continually breached over a lengthy period. They then made no attempt to publish these findings. Meanwhile, and even before the test data was available, they had begun a protracted correspondence with the Westway Trust and others, in an attempt to negotiate the provision of protective measures to mitigate the effects of these supposedly non-existent airborne pollutants. This in itself strongly suggests that they suspected, or even knew, all along that there was probably a significant risk to human health from air pollution at this site.
We are all left wondering what happened to truth, transparency and integrity at the Royal Borough and what kind of lying deceitful toads are we governed by in this Most Rotten of Boroughs
A final word to any of our detractors who might be inclined to criticise or contradict the content of this post – they should be mindful that we have in our possession all the documentation, provided by RBKC, on which the content of this piece is based.