Beeston has the worst air quality in the city

Average air pollution in parts of South Leeds are twice the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for at least one of two of the deadliest air pollutants, according to new analysis by Friends of the Earth.

Using the latest official government data, Friends of the Earth calculated the average annual air pollution levels for two of the most serious types of air pollution – Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulates (PM2.5) – for every neighbourhood in England, each with an average population of 1,700. View their ineractive map here.

The analysis showed that 20 neighbourhoods in Leeds suffer the worst pollution levels, with many of those in the Beeston and Holbeck areas. The areas suffering the worst pollution levels for Particulates being either side of Cross Flatts Park in Beeston.

The England-wide study also found:

  • People of colour are three times more likely to live in these high air pollution neighbourhoods and half of these neighbourhoods are among the most deprived in England.
  • People living in these areas are also three times less likely to own a car than people living elsewhere, meaning they are contributing the least to poor air quality.
  • Air pollution is one of the UK’s biggest killers, causing up to 36,000 early deaths in the UK every year. Road traffic is the biggest threat to clean air, and the major source of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air we breathe.
  • Road vehicles also produce tiny particles, known as particulate matter (PMs) both from exhaust fumes and wear and tear from brakes and tyres. These can find their way deep into our lungs and even into our bloodstream and organs.

Air pollution hits the most vulnerable the hardest, particularly children who can grow up with reduced lung function if living in an area with poor air quality, but also the elderly who are more likely to have a pre-existing condition worsened by bad air.

Friends of the Earth’s Yorkshire and Humberside campaign organiser, Simon Bowens, said:

“It’s a scandal that people in parts of Leeds live in areas where average air pollution levels are twice World Health Organisation guidelines for either or both of two of the deadliest pollutants.

“Millions of people across the country are suffering the effects of living in the most polluted neighbourhoods – with the most deprived communities and people of colour the hardest hit.

“The new Prime Minister must get to grips with this public health emergency, which kills tens of thousands of people prematurely every year, and costs the economy billions of pounds annually, with a package of measures to clean up our air, including cutting car use.”

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is Founder and Director of the Ella Roberta Foundation, which was set up following the tragic death of Rosamund’s nine-year-old daughter Ella in 2013 from a severe asthma attack contributed to by air pollution. She said:

“This latest data is shocking, but unsurprising. It re-emphasises the urgency with which our country … needs action on air pollution.

“Everyone deserves a right to breathe clean air, particularly children, who are worst impacted because their lungs are still developing.”

Chalk mural created with pupils from Greenmount Primary School for Clean Air Day 2022

Friends of the Earth is calling for tougher action on air pollution, including:

  • Greater incentives to encourage people to leave their cars at home. This should include better and cheaper public transport, and safer cycling and walking infrastructure. Car mileage also needs to decrease to meet climate goals, and there should be a halt to all new major roadbuilding.
  • Faster roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure, such as charging points, and a scrappage scheme to encourage people to switch to cleaner cars and other ways to get around. Electric vehicles cut exhaust emissions but still contribute to PM2.5s.
  • More Clean Air Zones that restrict the dirtiest vehicles in our cities
  • Action on all sources of key pollutants to ensure current UK legal limits are met in the shortest time possible. The government target for cutting PM2.5 by 2040 must be improved. It is based on WHO guidelines that have subsequently been strengthened. Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to meet its current target 10 years earlier (by 2030) as a steppingstone for complying with new and tougher WHO guidelines as soon as possible.

We approached Councillors for the worst affected wards. In a statement, Cllrs Gohar Almass, Annie Maloney and Andrew Scopes (Labour, Beeston & Holbeck) and Cllrs Mohammed Iqbal and Paul Wray (Labour, Hunslet & Riverside) said:

“We support the Friends of the Earth aspirations.

“Taking steps to improve air quality is a significant priority for our Labour administration and ourselves as local Labour Councillors for Beeston.

“The benefits of cleaner air on people’s health and wellbeing cannot be understated, and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to deal with the issue of harmful air quality.

“As our city rapidly approaches 900,000 people, providing a wide variety of clean, cheap, efficient, and easy to access transport options to meet our people’s needs will be not just critical to improve air quality, but to prevent long term gridlock of our transport network and economy.

“But the Tory central government must take the lead and invest fairly in transport. It is shameful only £500 per head is spent on transport in Yorkshire compared to £1476 in London. They also must properly invest in the vital road and charging network needed to allow for the more rapid take up of cleaner vehicles.”

Cllr Ed Carlisle (Green, Hunslet & Riverside) commented:

“Shocking though it is, this report is welcome, shining a spotlight on a big hidden issue. I and others have been working away over the past years to build momentum around air pollution, via our ‘South Leeds Alliance for Clean Air’: a ‘deputation’ speech before the full City Council, schools workshops, events, and more.

“Perhaps because it is such an invisible and pervasive problem, it is hard to get attention and action on it – but let’s now change that. There’s plenty we can do, both in the city community and in our own lives: let’s get to work.”

South Leeds Alliance for Clean Air will be holding a meeting on Saturday 19 November, 10am at Dolce Vita, 287 Beeston Road, for people who want to get involved in their campaign.

Friends of the Earth have produced an online interactive map of air pollution across England at Zoom in and click on your neighbourhood to find out about air quality where you live.


Main image: Detail from interactive map produced by Friends of the Earth showing the highest levels of Particulates (PM2.5) are in Beeston (darker red indicate higher level of pollution)


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One Reply to “Beeston has the worst air quality in the city”

  1. I discussed this article with my daughter who has “Beeston Lung” (I think the medical professionals refer to it as ‘asthma’) and these were our thoughts:
    – it was good to hear Ed Carlisle reference specific local actions he was supporting to try and improve things. There is only so much local groups can do though. It ultimately needs council and government action.
    – the Labour response left us feeling dismayed. Labour have run the Council for most of the last 42 years (we looked it up). But we’re supposed to just ‘blame the Tories’? They say the issue is all about transport but they have made no significant improvements to transport networks through Beeston in all these years. The traffic gets progressively worse, with long queues twice a day during rush hour, and mayhem near many of the local schools (except Hugh Gaitskell with their traffic-free zone), as well as on match days. There is the virtually-unused cycle path, but that doesn’t run along Town Street anyway. It’s often cheaper to drive into town than get the bus… although if we do bus it into town, it’s actually cheaper to drive down to the Elland Road Park & Ride where kids travel free, rather than get the No.1 and pay ££s – how stupid is that?! If Labour are going to take responsibility and they have a plan we’d love to hear it!

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