The concern of parents of children attending Dulwich Hamlet and Dulwich Village Infants’ schools at the dangerous levels of air pollution in the vicinity of both schools is totally understandable. There seems little doubt that air pollution has given rise to an increase in asthma and lung related illnesses.

As a consequence of their concern, a number of parents have formed a ‘Clean Air For Dulwich’ group and is suggesting to Southwark Council that the stretch of Dulwich Village between Turney Road and East Dulwich Grove be closed for one hour during school opening and closing times.

Have we not been down this, or similar routes before?

Older residents will remember the choking smog of earlier winters, when fog combined with sulphurous polluted air caused by millions of coal burning fires in household grates. In Dulwich, it was impossible at times to see more than three feet in the worst conditions and thousands of Londoners died. The problem led to the Clean Air Act (1956) when smokeless fuel replaced coal and special fireplaces were required to be fitted in every house. (This was followed by the Clean Air Act 1993 which banned the emission of dark smoke from any chimneys.)

Fast forward another generation, and parents in the 1970’s and 80’s at these two very same schools found their children were exposed to high concentrations of lead particles in the air. High levels of lead can cause brain damage in children as well as hypertension and learning disorders. The problem was mitigated by the removal of lead from petrol which had been added to improve performance of petrol driven cars.

The next successful campaign was the restricting of the sale of cigarettes and the banning of smoking on public transport, restaurants, pubs, places of public entertainment and the workspace in 2007. It is surprising how quickly the smoking ban was accepted, even in such hardened smoking areas such as Scotland.

The current problem is already being addressed by the Mayor of London with the announcement of the banning of older and therefore more polluting vehicles within the area of the South Circular Road in 2021. So what more can be done? Schools might consider opening later in the morning when the rush hour is finished (in Dulwich, certainly by 9.30am, and the lost time made up by removing some days from the holiday lists.

The closure of roads, as has been suggested by some Dulwich parents, would bring London to a standstill. It would be impossible to acquiesce to some areas’ closure and not to others. Schools on the South Circular Road (Oakfield and Rosemead), or Half Moon Lane/East Dulwich Grove (Judith Kerr and JAGS) or Lordship Lane/Dog Kennel Hill (Harris Junior, Goose Green JMI and Dog Kennel Hill JMI) are equally affected. Parents with children in those schools could certainly demand equal treatment. Pressure must therefore be directed firstly at local and national government for them to pursue the problem at source.

In the meantime, parents could reduce their reliance on online purchase which generates huge amounts of delivery traffic for single small items.