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Towards a cleaner, greener recovery: Where are we now and what’s next?

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Dirty air is estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK and concern about the quality of the air we breathe is rising. 72% of people in the UK think that clean air is even more important now because coronavirus can affect people’s lungs.

This week, as part of our ongoing #BreatheCleanerAir campaign, we’ll be looking at where we are now and what’s next for a cleaner, greener recovery. We’ll share the plans for cleaner air in Merton, new research from Global Action Plan and positive stories that have emerged from there being fewer vehicles on the road 🚗

As lockdown restrictions ease and schools and businesses reopen, Merton faces an estimated increase of > 100,000 daily car journeys due to reduced capacity of public transport. Urgent action is needed to prevent extreme levels of congestion, polluting vehicle emissions and road danger 🚗

Merton Council has published its Active & Healthy Travel Response to Covid-19 Plan which aims to provide more safe space for walking and cycling in the borough, including:

🚲 Pop-up cycle lanes

👣 Pavement widening

🚸 “School Streets”

⛔ Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods

The Merton Residents' Transport Group aims to support and advise Merton Council's Active & Healthy Travel Response to Covid-19 Plan, bringing together community organisations and individuals to share information and ideas on the best emergency transport measures for Merton 🚲🌳

The non-party-political group has already played an important role in encouraging residents to take action to inform the plan by submitting their ideas and suggestions for projects across the borough and is open to any resident, community group or business based in Merton.

Despite the terrible impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been searching for “silver linings” and one theme that has emerged is that we are walking, cycling and enjoying our local environment more than ever.

Active travel is essential for a green recovery. To help residents maintain social distancing and to improve road safety for walking and cycling, Merton Council is installing pop-up cycle lanes and pavement widening schemes across the borough.

As part of Merton Council’s Active & Healthy Travel Response to Covid-19 emergency plan, pavements are being extended into the road at some of the busiest parts of the borough to help support local businesses as they begin to reopen.

In order to protect ourselves and those around us, we need to get used to a new way of getting around and consider the safest journey to take. Walking and cycling wherever possible will protect your health and the environment 🌳

To reduce congestion and improve air quality at the school gates, Merton Council has announced that 28 “School Streets” will be in place by September 2020.

A school street closes the road to cars during pick up and drop off times so that schools can manage social distancing at the school gates and children can walk, cycle and scoot to school without fear of increased traffic or associated raised levels of air pollution.

The Local Government Association and Merton Council are working with the Behavioural Insights Team to improve air quality outside primary schools by modifying the environment to reduce the number of cars idling at drop-off/pick-up.

Our Community Champions will be supporting this work by carrying out data observation and you can help too! This is an exciting opportunity to take action to improve your local environment and the health of residents, learn something new and gain experience in research.

Email to get involved!

With 87% of people currently working from home saying that they would like to continue to do so, businesses are being encouraged to embrace remote working to help keep cars off the road and employees happy and healthy 🌳

“My asthma has improved so much I no longer need to take my medication every day. Not sure if this is because I am not on the tube every day and in central London but it has been great!” - Waverley, Community Champion

To help businesses prioritise the most impactful ways to cut air pollution and make a green recovery, Global Action Plan has launched the Business for Clean Air initiative.

Employees and customers are concerned about air quality more than ever before and expect businesses to take action. Global Action Plan’s research revealed that 74% of people want business to “do more to cut pollution and traffic after the lockdown so that neighbourhoods don’t go back to the way they were”.

In addition to remote working, businesses are also being asked to think about other steps they can take for cleaner air: from low pollution deliveries to improved air quality inside the workplace 🌿

Global Action Plan's Clean Air Recovery Essentials is a great tool to help you get back to business sustainably!

"It’s only when we stop polluting due to a catastrophic virus, that we realise just how contaminated our air usually is, and how delightful the spring breeze can be when it comes unsullied with car fumes. At times, to my nose anyway, Merton smelled like Devon this April!" 🌼

In his blog, Community Champion Dan reflects on the impact of this temporary period of respite on the environment and the opportunities we now have to breathe cleaner air and build back a better future 🌍🌳

"I live in South East London and work in Merton, which is why I decided to become a Community Champion with Sustainable Merton. During lockdown, I've been able to take full advantage of the cleaner air and extend my running distance up to 10-13 miles venturing further than my local park, It's been a fantastic way to discover new areas of the City, and I hope I can continue doing this."

With more of us than ever feeling concerned about the quality of the air we breathe, and having seen the benefits of fewer cars on the roads during lockdown, now is the time for each of us to make our pledge for cleaner air in Merton 🌳

Our #BreatheCleanerAir pledge highlights 5 simple actions we can all take to reduce vehicle emissions, get active and avoid air pollution hotspots.

Will you take action today? PLEDGE NOW

Merton's Air Quality Action Plan Group - JOIN US

Coordinated by Sustainable Merton, Merton’s Air Quality Action Plan Group oversees the progression and implementation of Merton Council’s 5 year Air Quality Action Plan.

The next meeting is due to take place on 15th September and we welcome organisations interested in joining to get in touch 📧 Please send an email to


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