Published: 8 February, 2013
by ANDREW JOHNSON
SMOKE from summer barbecues on Highbury Fields and pubs burning firewood are contributing to the area’s poor air quality, it was claimed on Thursday.
A wide-ranging meeting on air pollution heard that large lorries and diesel fumes were the main cause of high levels of pollution in the borough. It was also told that smaller irritants, such as smoke from canal boats and summer barbecues, were causing problems.
Islington’s environment team said they were aware of the concerns over barbecues and were discussing it with residents.
But the council’s Labour environment chief, Councillor Paul Smith, said blaming barbecues was “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”.
The Town Hall is launching a Spare the Air campaign to encourage commuters to work from home on days when poor air quality is predicted. A similar scheme in San Francisco reduces traffic by nine per cent on days of high pollution, atmospheric scientist Iarla Kilbane-Dawe said.
He added: “Everybody in London thinks air pollution is a problem but nobody knows what to do about it. They think it’s a job for someone else to do.
“Spare the Air is going to be a long-term programme to encourage people to stay at home if there’s going to be a pollution day.”
He said the cost of the £60,000 campaign would be met by the Department for the Environment, with Camden and Croydon also taking part.
But he warned it had taken San Francisco two decades to reach the nine per cent traffic reduction.
There was also loud criticism of Cllr Smith, who did not attend the meeting.
His counterpart in Camden, Councillor Paul Braithwaite, did show up and leapt to the defence of his colleague.
He said: “Camden and Islington work very closely together on air quality.”
Cllr Smith said he could not attend because he had a full diary, but that he would take full note of a report of the meeting.
Pollution hotspots were identified as the bus garage in Holloway and the Regent’s Canal – because of smoke from narrowboats – diesel emissions and idling engines.
Caroline Russell, of the Green Party, said that residents living near Highbury Fields were concerned about smoke from barbecues.
Sukky Choongh, Islington’s environment officer, said: “It’s something we’re aware of and are discussing.”
She added that pubs burning firewood for “comfort fires” were being monitored.
Cllr Smith later told the Tribune: “I will read the report of the meeting in full. The air pollution issues facing the borough are caused by road transport, particularly big trucks, which is the biggest cause of air pollution, and which London needs to do something about.
“The idea that barbecues are responsible is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Anyone who suggests getting rid of barbecues, which are enormously popular, is out of touch with reality.”
The meeting was the final stage of an Air Quality Scrutiny Panel, chaired by Lib Dem councillor Greg Foxsmith.
He said that air quality was a health issue rather than an environmental one.
A meeting last week was told that between 16 and 183 people a year in Islington die early because of air pollution. There is a spike in children being admitted to hospital for asthma three to five days after a peak in air pollution.
HIGHBURY Fields is one of the few open spaces in London where barbecues are allowed – a ban was lifted in May 2011.
But in a letter to Islington Council’s chief executive in November, the Barbecue Action Group of residents, who live around the Fields, complained about anti-social behaviour linked to barbecues.
They claim that on a hot summer day a cloud of barbecue smoke hangs over the Fields “and wafts through open windows into the homes of residents, bringing with it a strong smell of paraffin and roasting meat”.
They further complain that at least two fires have had to be put out by residents due to charcoal being placed in bins, and that bones and other rubbish litters the Fields in the evening.
“The presence of open fires prevents families with young children from using the Fields,” they said. “Those suffering from respiratory problems are equally penalised. The practice also breaches the Clean Air Act of 1993.”
Asking the Town Hall to reconsider the barbecue ban, they add that particulates from the smoke contribute to pollution and breach European environmental laws.
Islington’s environment chief Councillor Paul Smith says that lifting the ban has allowed people without gardens to enjoy barbecues on hot days.
Green Party campaigner Caroline Russell said: “Residents are right to be concerned about the health impact of barbecue smoke.
“Islington should measure the pollution caused by barbecues, in particular the ultra-fine particles especially damaging to lung and heart health.
“If the evidence shows high pollution, then Islington should follow Camden with a no-barbecue policy on public health grounds.”