Transport is the biggest source of air and noise pollution in the UK. Road transport is responsible for around a quarter of UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major contributor to climate change, traffic noise and health issues. In town centres and alongside busy roads, motor vehicles are responsible for most local pollution and most environmental noise. As the effects of air pollution on our health become better understood, the alarming findings indicate that it's health impacts are far greater than previously thought. Recent research has found that of all the global deaths in 2018, one fifth of them were caused by pollution. In Europe, this figure is estimated at one in ten, which is a shocking number indeed. The main
culprit is the sooty airborne particles thrown out by power plants, cars, trucks and other sources. Measuring less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (about 30 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair), these tiny specks of pollution lodge in the lungs and can cause a variety of health problems such as respiratory ailments and heart disease, which is never ideal, let alone during a pandemic that appears to attack the lungs.Whilst we may be forgiven for assuming that Chipping Barnet's leafy and breezy position offers some protection against this deadly killer, there is more to it than meets the eye.... Despite its elevated position, High Barnet High Street still suffers from significant air pollution. At 34 mcg/m3 it is dangerously close to the World Health Organisation 40mcg limit, and poses untold health, environmental and even financial costs to residents, workers and visitors. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise as 76% of respondents who completed our survey earlier this year said they either agreed or strongly agreed that air pollution in High Barnet is a concern.
As it turns out, High Barnet's unique position is in fact one of it's main downfalls when it comes to air pollution. As a final destination on one of the Northern Line Underground routes, High Barnet is prime drive-and-ride property. Commuters heading into town will drive in from miles around, park on the Meadway, St Alban's Road and other restriction-free streets, and then jump on the Tube, savings them a small fortune compared to the rail fares fetched at commuter towns further afield. It's elevated position offers another sticking point in the context of access, namely the challenge presented by our healthy road gradients, especially when considering alternative active travel modes. Bridging rural countryside and the North with London also puts High Barnet right on one of the main access routes in and out of the capital. Whilst
this could be viewed by some as an advantage in terms of trade and PR, sadly this is not the case for our town. Unfortunately neither commuters or passers-by appear to be contributing much to our local community other than air pollution, noise and congestion (although we are hoping that some of the projects proposed by the Chipping Barnet Community Plan will make our town more attractive to these groups).
What is the solution?
So indeed, the question remains, what can be done? Diverting London bound traffic is no small feat. Building more roads is not a practical solution, and is often counter-productive, leading to more cars on the roads than previously, as has been demonstrated with the Barnet bypass (also Hammersmith flyover and several studies). Adopting alternative modes of transport is really our only option. Commuters could potentially be deterred by the extension of existing resident parking zones, but this would need to approved by residents. Perhaps thinking about our own car behaviours is an area to be explored? The recently widened pavements (and newly planted trees) provide safer and more enjoyable walking routes, whilst an increase in cycle parking could tempt the more courageous amongst us. There is an on-going debate regarding parking, and the high street revival / parking conundrum remains and issue to be addressed.