Air pollution in the City of London drops by a third since COVID-19 lockdown

Air quality in the City of London has improved significantly in a matter of weeks as traffic in the Square Mile has been heavily reduced due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

New data published by the City of London Corporation shows nitrogen dioxide levels have reduced by around 35% in the Square Mile since the beginning of lockdown, when compared to the average reading from January 1* - making the air cleaner by over a third in just a few weeks. The air quality at Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School improved by 36% and at Upper Thames Street by 34%.

The City of London’s central location, along with a dense road network and high buildings, means that it faces a particular challenge when it comes to air quality.

Around half of London’s air pollution comes from road transport. Nearly half of car trips made by Londoners before the coronavirus lockdown could be cycled in around ten minutes.**

The City Corporation last week published its transportation response to support the COVID-19 recovery and ensure the gradual safe return of people who work, live and visit the Square Mile. The plan is aligned to the City Corporation’s radical Transport Strategy and will provide additional space to encourage travel on foot and by cycle, support businesses and manage demand on public transport. This focus on sustainability will support pedestrians and cyclists in the Square Mile, and in turn change behaviour to help ensure the current temporary improvements in air quality become more permanent.

It wants to use this data on pollution from the unprecedented reduction of activity in the City of London to call on workers, visitors and residents to think more about how they travel throughout the Square Mile, and take into consideration what they can do as individuals and businesses to improve the air quality.

Keith Bottomley, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Environmental Services Committee, said:

“The City is running at a fraction of its normal activity level during the COVID-19 lockdown so this dramatic improvement in air quality is not unexpected.

“This period demonstrates how changes in our behaviour can directly improve air quality. Reducing traffic and embracing cycling and walking must be a key part of plans for the recovery from COVID-19 so that Londoners can breathe cleaner air permanently.

“We will take further bold and practical actions to improve air quality in the City of London.”

The City Corporation’s launched its revised Air Quality Strategy in late 2019. Aside from outlining how the City Corporation will carry out its statutory duty to improve air quality, one of the main aims of the strategy is for 90% of the City to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for nitrogen dioxide by 2025. The proposals also support the Mayor of London’s drive for London to meet WHO air quality guidelines for particulates by 2030.

As part of the strategy, the City Corporation will also collaborate with every school in the Square Mile to roll out Air Quality Action Plans, building on a successful partnership work at Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School. It will also accelerate its use of zero emission vehicle technology, requiring only low and zero-emission vehicles through its contracts and encouraging other City businesses to use cleaner vehicles.

The governing body has banned new diesel vehicles from its own fleet and is leading a London-wide crackdown on idling engines.

The City Corporation’s CityAir app gives over 30,000 Londoners low pollution travel routes, advice and alerts.

It is leading on an Emissions Reduction Bill to give London’s local authorities tough new powers to tackle air pollution caused by boilers, construction machinery and diesel generators.

* the study compared the average reading of nitrogen dioxide from 1st January to 22 March, compared to the average reading between the 23 March and 28 April



Notes to editors

About the City of London Corporation

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK.

Key statistics about travel and transport in the City of London:

  • 84% of commuter travel to the City is by public transport, 5% by walking and 4% by cycling. Fewer than 5% of City workers drive to work.
  • 45% of motor vehicles in the Square Mile are cars (including private hire vehicles), 21% are taxis and 22% vans and goods vehicles.
  • The number of cyclists on City streets has significantly risen across the last decade (up 292% since 1999), while the number of vehicles using the Square Mile’s streets has halved in the last 20 years.
  • Walking is by far the main mode of travel within the City, with over 750,000 walked journeys a day. In recent years investment in cycling infrastructure has resulted in an estimated tripling in the number of people cycling in the Square Mile.