Local community engagement holds the key to reduce emissions in Barnet

Thanks to funding from the Mayor of London and engagement with the local community, especially with school children, Barnet Council has successfully raised awareness of air quality problems in the area.  

Ralph Haynes began working on Air Quality and pollution issues for Barnet Council in 1993 and back in the early 90s, air quality in the suburban North London borough was significantly worse compared to today. 

Barnet suffered from high particulate levels and lead in petrol as a result of poor air dispersal from polluting vehicles and problems associated with NO2 like we do now.  These vehicles weren’t necessarily docking in the area but using the various A-roads and motorways that cut through the borough to get to other places. 

Fast forward more than 20 years and today Ralph can be found working within Barnet’s Department of Development and Regulatory Services as the Group Manager for Consultancy and Scientific Services. 

barnet cycle stands 

New cycle stands and street tree in North Finchley 

Ralph said that air quality today in Barnet is better but there is still a problem with Nitrogen Dioxide and there are two main reasons for this.   

“Typical of suburbia is that people tend to drive rather than use alternative means of transport and a fact is that leafy Barnet is in the bottom six of walking London boroughs,” said Ralph. 

“Added to this is the fact that Barnet sees traffic going through it as people access the M1, A1 or the North Circular to go elsewhere. These are all busy roads and you can just imagine how many thousands of cars are passing through the borough every day. 

“The second issue is that despite the advances in car-related technology and the removal of polluting vehicles, the problem today is that there are more cars and HGVs on the roads and more of these are diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles now burn particulates but cause more NO2 emissions than petrol cars, which can have a significant impact on our health.” 

To turn this situation around the local authority implemented low emissions zones. This was followed by Barnet securing funds from the Mayor of London between 2014 and 2016 to implement measures to reduce pollution. 

North Finchley is one of the largest town centres in Barnet and can be found in the eastern part of the borough, with a busy shopping street and a main road that is regularly congested. Building on the work in the late 1990s, where the council installed air quality monitors, Barnet implemented a whole package of interventions to target the high levels of pollution in the area. 

With access to £200,000 of funds from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund, one initiative saw the council form a youth engagement team, which toured eight schools and directly engage with 1,600 secondary pupils. The “Go Your Own Way to School” roadshow was part-sponsored by the music industry and featured an up and coming RnB artist. 

Surveys indicated that 92% of pupils are now committed to improving air quality outside their school and 87% said they will make an effort to walk and cycle more to help improve their health. 

The council then turned its attention to St Joseph’s School, whose grounds border with the A41. Barnet erected a 73 m2 green screen between St Joseph’s and the busy main road, which has 65,000 vehicle movements per day. Air quality concentrations were 84ug/m3 on the edge of the playground prior to installation of the ivy screens and diffusion tube monitoring is on-going to assess the air quality impact. 

Additional measures by Barnet through the North Finchley scheme saw the local authority create a pocket park, 221 nitrogen dioxide reducing trees were planted, two duel electric vehicle charging points installed, erected 23 cycle parking stands, providing 46 spaces, and 265 pupils were provided with cycle training. 

 Barnet shares a border with Harrow Council, another suburban London authority to the west of Barnet. In addition to being neighbours, Barnet and Harrow share a public health primary care trust and so the two authorities decided to launch a joint-engagement scheme.  

The project with Harrow saw young apprentices trained up to engage with schools and residents to increase walking and cycling and raise awareness of air quality. 62 schools were visited, double the original target, leading to 22,000 direct engagements and a substantial increase in awareness and understanding of air quality issues across the two authorities. In addition, the two authorities advised 189 drivers of anti-idling at 10 schools over seven days, and stopped 64 instances of idling. 

Further initiatives saw Harrow and Barnet engage with the business community. 35 businesses were engaged with in total and in particular, takeaways were given information on correct cooking, while businesses selling heating appliances were given information on smoke control legislation. 

barnet and harrow 

Further schemes in Barnet include: 

  • Employed an Air Quality Champion between 2014 and 2016, funded by the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund
  • Investment for a North London Construction dust enforcement officer, who visits building sites across several neighbouring London authorities to reduce the amount of polluting vehicles
  • Membership of an electric vehicle car club allowing Council staff and the public to use electric cars
  • Consolidated Freight Delivery scheme to reduce HGV congestion.

Ralph said that the general picture is continually improving and in addition to updating the Air Quality Action Plan, Barnet has been awarded ‘Cleaner Air Borough’ status from the Mayor of London. But the key challenge, as it has been traditionally, is changing peoples’ behaviours. 

He said: “Today in Barnet there are more and more residential developments going up. This not only sees increased levels of polluting construction equipment, dust and construction vehicles on the roads but with more people moving into the area, they are causing more traffic because even though here are sustainable travel plans for new developments, new residents use their cars to get around and this causes additional emissions. 

“To truly make a dent in the amount of emissions in Barnet, we need more initiatives to reduce commuting vehicle journeys and short car journeys and install more cycle lanes. We also need to secure more political support at the top in reducing car and HGV usage. This is the only real way we will truly achieve the 2025 objectives.” 



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