London reaches air pollution limits for 2018 before the end of January

Legal air pollution limits for the whole year have been reached within a month in London, figures show.

Brixton Road, Lambeth, has seen levels of pollutant nitrogen dioxide exceed average hourly limits 18 times so far this year, the maximum allowed under European Union air quality rules.

It has taken the capital longer to reach the air pollution limit this year than last year when legal levels were breached less than a week into the new year.

But while campaigners welcomed action by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to tackle pollution, they warned the relative delay in reaching the limit this year could be down to weather conditions dispersing the dirty air.

Environmental groups called for the Government to take urgent steps, including creating and funding clean air zones in pollution hotspots across the UK where 85% of areas still break air quality rules which should have been achieved in 2010.

Government estimates suggest compliance for levels of nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from road transport, particularly diesel, will not be met until 2026.

Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of about 40,000 people a year in the UK and causes problems such as heart and lung diseases and asthma.

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Oliver Hayes, from Friends of the Earth, said: "The frequency and severity of these pollution spikes shows we've still got a long way to go in cleaning up our air, despite some good initiatives by the Mayor."

He said central government action was also critical.

"A decent scrappage scheme to compensate diesel drivers must go hand in hand with a network of genuinely effective clean air zones across the country."

Mel Evans, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "This is now an annual spectacle highlighting the Government's abject failure to tackle the toxic air cloaking our towns and cities.

"The Government could make a real difference very quickly by replicating London's evidence-led approach across the country, and yet it still advocates clean air zones only as a last resort."

She called for funding for local authorities to put clean air zones into place now, and a planned Government phase-out for conventional diesel and petrol cars should be brought forward from 2040 to 2030.

It comes as ministers, including from the UK, were called to Brussels to discuss the ongoing failure by a number of EU countries to meet legal targets to cut air pollution and action being taken to reduce the problem.

Following the meeting EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella said ministers had "some positive suggestions" but they were not substantial enough and limits could be exceeded "even well beyond 2020".

Countries including the UK face legal action by the EU if urgent measures are not introduced to tackle the problem.

Ugo Taddei, lawyer for legal charity ClientEarth which last week took the Government to court for the third time over its air pollution strategy, said: "The Commission should wait no longer and take immediately action in court, rather than having more meetings.

"People in the UK have waited long enough to breathe clean air."