Council acts to improve air quality and public health by driving down car use

Merton Council’s Cabinet has agreed to take action to improve air quality and encourage more active and healthier lifestyles in the borough by encouraging people to make more journeys by bike and on foot.

To support people to change their behaviour, the council is introducing a new parking charges system. The new charges will apply to controlled parking zones, public car parks, on street parking and parking permits in Merton, which has been designated as an air quality management area. This means more must be done to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide. Nearly two thirds of this main pollutant is emitted from vehicles and pollution levels are highest in town centres across the borough. Breathing in polluted air affects the brain as well as the lungs and is worse for older people and for children.

To help reduce air pollution and encourage people to be more active and lead healthier lives, the council has already introduced a variety of walking and cycling initiatives, including six kilometres of new cycle routes and 651 more cycle parking spaces over the last six years. So far, 101 electric vehicle charging points have been installed across the borough, with an additional 36 planned by the end of the year. There are also car clubs in the borough, which give drivers access to cars without the cost or responsibility of owning one.

However, currently in Merton, 42% of journeys are made by car, compared to 30% on foot, 3% by bike and 24% on public transport. Nearly two thirds (60%) of respondents to a public consultation about public health, air quality and parking charges agreed that the council should encourage motorists towards more active and sustainable modes of transport.

Proximity to public transport was one of the key criteria the council used to determine how to divide the borough into parking charges zones. Places with fewer connections will have lower parking charges than places which have plenty of public transport links. The boundaries of some of these zones have been changed, following the public consultation earlier this year, which received around 3,000 responses.

Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Health and the Environment, Councillor Tobin Byers said: “The council recognises its role to improve air quality by reducing demand for parking and cutting congestion by driving down car use. We also want to improve public health by making the healthy choice the easy choice – encouraging residents to make more journeys on foot or bike, rather than by car.”

He added: “Encouraging people to travel more sustainably is just one of a number of actions the council is taking to address air quality across the borough. Our Air Quality Action Plan – adopted in 2018 – included some 70 recommendations, and progress is being made on them all. We are committed to improving the quality or the air we breathe across the borough, and our new parking charges structure is just one element of that.”

The new parking charges are set to come into force during the autumn.

Income from parking charges can only be spent on running the parking service and transport projects, including filling in potholes, resurfacing borough roads and new cycling schemes. It also goes towards the Freedom Pass – London’s concessionary travel scheme. Merton has spent around £27million on the Freedom Pass during the last three years.