At the Conservative Party Conference, New West End Company partnered with Westminster City Council on a fringe event on air quality. Chief Executive Jace Tyrrell spoke about the importance of improving air quality in the West End for economic growth.
His speech was reported and shared on Business Green, the UK’s leading news site for the green economy.
Click here to read the piece on Business Green or see below for the full piece.
Clean air is not just good for health but good for business
Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive, New West End Company
If you ever visit Beijing the chances are that one of the main images you come away with is of a city shrouded in a grey-green foggy haze of pollution. There are times when you literally can’t see what’s on the other side of the street.
When you’re in Beijing you can see all too clearly that there’s a major air quality problem. But when you are in central London, you don’t notice it. It’s a different type of pollution but it’s still there. It’s just not so visible to the naked eye.
But every day it’s becoming more visible. As public awareness grows, as more apps are developed, as more studies are published, the previously invisible problem of air pollution in our capital city is becoming more and more visible to more and more people.
Businesses in London’s West End have a particular responsibility to the millions of people that we attract into the West End every year who then have to breath this poor quality air.
We effectively have a duty of care to the 100,000 people who come into the West End every day to work and to the millions of people, both from the UK and worldwide, who come to visit our unique mix of shops, restaurants and theatres that are on a scale and quality unrivalled by any other global shopping district.
Take for example the unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide levels that on Oxford Street regularly break EU safety standards. It is produced mainly by the diesel used by many of the buses and taxis on Oxford Street. It has a particularly damaging effect on the developing lungs of children. And at the same time we are working hard to attract more young families to the West End.
So as the state of our air quality becomes more visible, it has the potential to damage dramatically the West End’s appeal, both to employers and customers. The West End competes globally for investment and for visitors, so there’s a clear business imperative to clean-up London’s air.
It’s a win for our district and for London that Facebook has chosen a development just off Oxford Street for its new UK headquarters. It’s also very encouraging that Microsoft has chosen Regent Street as the place to open its first ever European flagship store.
It’s investment like this that allows the West End to retain its predominant global position and generate as much value for the UK economy each year in just six hectares as is generated by the whole of Wales.
But as the impact of poor air quality on staff and visitors becomes increasingly important, London could start losing out to both to traditional rivals like Paris and New York as they too strive to tackle their problems, and to the newly emerging, massive, air conditioned international shopping malls in the Middle East and Far East.
In 2015 Paris, for a brief while, topped the world charts for poor air quality, recording higher levels of air pollution than Delhi. Last December it suffered its worst and most prolonged winter pollution in 10 years. In contrast, this April, New York recorded its lowest level of air pollution since records began, although, to be fair, that was only in 2008.
So for many reasons, not just individual health but also for international competitiveness, London needs to grasp the urgency of this problem of poor air quality and take the bold steps needed to clean up our air for residents, employees and visitors.
In many areas it has to be led by government; it has to be the Mayor tackling congestion by drastically reducing the number of bus routes in the West End, working with TFL and Westminster in creating traffic-free zones and introducing an ultra-low emission zone.
But businesses also have to respond to our duty of care. Earlier this year New West End Company created the UK’s first ever business-led Air Quality Strategy. It contains a mix of established and innovative measures which, taken together, are making a real contribution to cleaning our capital’s air. Our target is for business-led initiatives to reduce air pollution by 10 per cent and commercial vehicle trips by 40 per cent by 2020.
A few examples of initiatives in our strategy include:
- A pilot freight and waste consolidation service on Bond Street that cut the number of these vehicles by 95 per cent in the first year
- A scheme that pools companies’ resources to buy more competitively from single suppliers, saving businesses money and reducing delivery vehicle numbers which currently serves over 2,000 businesses in the core West End
- The world’s first smart street on Bird Street, just off Oxford Street, showcasing new environmental technologies such as a bench that sucks in polluted air, cleans it and pumps it out fresh
- Traffic Free days on Regent Street with additional green street scape to attract visitors
The secret to getting business buy-in to these programmes is to show that this is not just about corporate social responsibility, it’s also good business practice. Pooling resources cuts cost and cleaner air makes the West End more attractive to investors and customers against increasing global competition.
But more could be done as not all businesses are yet fully bought into these benefits. We need constantly to examine how commercial space is designed and how businesses operate to find ways of reducing even further the pollutants in our air.
This may need some new ideas to throw into the policy debate. For instance, we’d like to see:
- Some form of business rates relief for any business that can demonstrate how they are actively contributing to a cleaner local environment
- New planning policies that enable more London-wide schemes, such as waste and freight consolidation centres in underutilised car parks
- Giving Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) the ability to take more responsibility for delivering local schemes to improve air quality
Yet, there is no silver bullet. There is no single quick fix to better air quality. It’s a continuous programme of activities, delivered by public and private partners working together for the benefit of their communities.