Deputy Mayor scolds William Patten parents over pollution ‘publicity stunts’

Deputy Mayor Feryal Demirci. Photograph: Hackney Council

Deputy Mayor Feryal Demirci has scolded parents worried about pollution at their children’s school, accusing them of putting “publicity stunts” above facts about their children’s health.

Parents are campaigning against council plans to close Walford Road in Stoke Newington, which the parents say will boost traffic pollution outside William Patten Primary School in Church Street.

Cllr Demirci, who was promoted to joint Deputy Mayor last month, issued a statement today accusing the parents of being “more interested in getting publicity than the facts”.

She questioned how serious the protests were, saying: “If people are serious about protecting children from air pollution they should be lobbying us to close more roads, not less.”

However, Cllr Demirci suggested that the council and campaigners “all want the same thing – to reduce traffic and improve the borough’s air quality”.

She concluded that the council “remain[s] open to meaningful engagement”, but that “decisions will be evidence-based and not influenced by publicity stunts”.

The council disputes the findings in a Greater London Authority (GLA) report that air pollution around William Patten already breaches European Union limits.

Cllr Demirci also said today that council officers met with William Patten’s head teacher today to discuss “a green wall and screens” by the school gates, and will next month launch an “air quality forecasting system”.

Deputy Mayor Demirci, in her statement, said: “Today, a group of parents have taken photos outside William Patten School in Stoke Newington as part of a campaign against proposals to reduce traffic on residential streets in the area.

“We have been very clear that no decision has been made on the proposed road closures as we do more work to understand the potential impacts.

“The campaign group know full well that we are waiting for the modelling work to be completed and that we will be meeting them again next month so we can discuss the traffic assumptions and air quality impacts of the proposed road closures.

“They also know that, contrary to the GLA’s report, air quality monitoring and modelling suggests that the air pollution levels at William Patten School meet national air quality objectives for nitrogen dioxide, and across large parts of the playground are similar to what you would expect in less polluted back streets.”

Fuming: Campaigners outside William Patten Primary School. Photograph: CAWP

She added: “It appears that they are more interested in getting publicity than the facts, which is not helpful for anyone, not least the pupils whose interests they claim to be looking out for.”

Cllr Demirci continued: “I actually believe that we all want the same thing – to reduce traffic and improve the borough’s air quality.

“Removing through traffic from residential streets is an effective way of reducing the number of cars and improving air quality across entire areas, and no council has done more to get rid of dangerous rat-runs than Hackney.

“We want to reduce air pollution on the streets where children live, sleep, walk and spend most of their time.

“If people are serious about protecting children from air pollution they should be lobbying us to close more roads, not less.”

She went on: “Independent of the proposed road closures, we have been monitoring at schools across the borough, including those that have wrongly been identified by the GLA as potentially failing national air quality objectives, and will recommend measures to reduce pupils’ exposure to pollution.

“We are working with both William Patten and St Mary’s schools to put in place measures to reduce pupil exposure. Our officers met the William Patten head teacher this morning to discuss what we are doing, which includes paying for a green wall and screens for the school gates.

“Next month we will launch a schools air quality forecasting system, which we believe will be a first of its kind.

“It will provide information on borough and London wide air pollution episodes and is more accurate than existing borough and London wide systems such as the the GLA’s alert service.

“I can also announce that the council will be making significant funding available to help schools affected by poor air quality across the borough.”

Deputy Mayor Demirci concluded: “Two thirds of households in Hackney do not own a car, but parts of the borough still suffers from poor air quality.

“We will continue to do all we can to reclaim our streets from the private motor vehicle, support the Mayor of London’s push for tightened restrictions on emissions and enable residents to cycle and walk as much as possible.

“We remain open to meaningful engagement – our decisions will be evidence-based and not influenced by publicity stunts.”

Tom Knowles of the Clean Air for William Patten group said: “We are surprised and disappointed by Cllr Demirci’s personal attack on her own constituents and her ill-informed dismissal of our legitimate concerns about air quality and child health, which are backed up by the GLA report and detailed analysis of the facts by air quality experts.

“Describing the proactive campaigning of primary school children and their parents as a ‘publicity stunt’ belittles their efforts to influence change and fails to recognise their very valid concerns.”

Knowles added: “Of course we are in favour of reducing traffic but displacing it past heavily polluted primary schools is appalling.

“The facts are William Patten is on an illegally polluted street and the Mayor of London’s recent air quality report suggested closing a section of the playground because of the ‘heavily trafficked road.’

“Based on the Council’s traffic counts on the roads they seek to close, up to 2,000 vehicles per day could be displaced past the school.  We are campaigning to urgently reduce pollution – the last thing these children need is more traffic and this is something many pupils have been discussing and feel very strongly about.

“Mayor Glanville and Cllr Demirci have both said that they think they should be closing residential roads and sending more traffic down main roads.

“But 18 of Hackney’s 20 most-polluted schools are on – or are a block or so away from main roads. So how can they tackle pollution at the borough’s most polluted schools if they believe that’s where traffic ‘belongs’?”

Update: this article was amended at 22:43 on Wednesday 20 June to include a response from the Clean Air for William Patten campaign.

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