Fighting for breath – communities call for clean air

Residents, schools and organisations across south Leeds are joining a growing movement calling for and working towards better air quality in our communities.

Against the backdrop of events including the high-profile court case of Ella Kissi-Debrah (a nine year old Londoner whose death was arguably caused by air pollution), and national Clean Air Day each June, there is increasing awareness about the reality and effects of air pollution. Emissions from vehicles and industry – including gases like Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), and ‘particulate matter’ – are particularly held up to blame. And inevitably, urban communities suffer worst.

This largely invisible reality in our lives is closely linked with a wide range of serious health conditions, including cancer, asthma, COPD, heart disease, strokes, and more. The UK spends an estimated £16bn treating people for the health impacts of air pollution; and annually, over 28,000 Brits die prematurely because of it.

Here in south Leeds, we suffer some of the very highest rates of respiratory illnesses and heart disease, and lowest life expectancies, in the city – and it looks like we have a long way to go before seeing substantial change on air pollution.

As reported last autumn, most of LS10 and LS11 is set to be excluded from Leeds’ forthcoming Clean Air Zone – in which highly polluting vehicles will be charged to enter. The Council insist that – although pollution is high here – it isn’t illegally high, so central government and big business would block such a move.

However, following that disappointment, a new South Leeds Alliance for Clean Air has now emerged. Their work includes a ‘Plants for People’ project (pictured) – aiming to get air-cleansing plants into every classroom in south Leeds. They are also working through the schools to boost local awareness and action, as well as looking to develop independent local air monitoring, work with residents groups on tree planting, and much more. For more info or to get involved, find ‘South Leeds Alliance for Clean Air’ on Facebook.

Also in south Leeds, various schools and groups of residents are organising their own road closure events – in which streets are temporarily turned over to play or other neighbourhood activities. To organise your own road closure this summer, for free, call the Highways team on (0113) 378 7506. These link with wider campaigns including one pushing for a monthly Car Free Sunday in Leeds city centre – a scheme that cities including Paris and Edinburgh have pioneered.

Meanwhile, Leeds City Council and their partners are leading several campaigns, including one asking people not to ‘idle’- that is, to turn their car engines off when not moving, especially around schools. As yet, take-up amongst south Leeds schools has been low – but that is slowly changing.

Cllr James Lewis, executive member with responsibility for air quality, said:

“We (the Council) are working hard to do everything we can to improve air quality – and when the Clean Air Zone does eventually come in, the benefits will be felt right across the city. Everyone in Leeds shares a responsibility for cleaning the air. And there are lots of ways to do your bit: using the car less often, sharing journeys, turning off your engine when idling.”

For more info on the Council’s clean air strategies visit: Or two organisations lobbying the Council to do more include Friends of the Earth, and Healthy Air Leeds

What do you think? Are you concerned by air pollution? Is enough being done? How can we all play our part – and is it worth it? Join the debate here, or on social media.