World’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone to save NHS billions by 2050

26 February 2020
  • New report shows the Ultra Low Emission Zone and the Mayor’s other air quality policies will save the NHS around £5 billion over next 30 years.
  • Mayor’s world-leading action means almost 300,000 fewer Londoners suffering diseases attributable to air pollution such as heart disease, lung cancer & dementia.
  • Without wider Government action the cost to the NHS and social care system in London is estimated to be £10.4 billion by 2050.

The Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and other bold policies to tackle air pollution will save the NHS around £5 billion and more than one million hospital admissions over the next 30 years. The figures are from a new report looking at the long-term health impacts of exposure to toxic pollution (NO2 and PM2.5) in London.

The world’s first ULEZ was introduced last year in central London and is the centrepiece of Sadiq Khan’s bold action to tackle London’s toxic air health crisis. Toxic pollutants lead to thousands of premature deaths every year, increase the risk of asthma, dementia and cancer and stunt the development of children’s lungs. The ULEZ has already led to immediate health benefits with fewer polluting cars being driven and a roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) reducing by 36 per cent in the zone. 

Today’s report reveals that by 2050 the impact of the Mayor’s air quality policies, including the ULEZ, Low Emission Bus Zones and no longer licensing new diesel taxis, are predicted to result in:

  • almost 300,000 Londoners saved from diseases attributable to air pollution, such as coronary heart disease, lung cancer and dementia. This is a reduction of around one in every four air pollution related diseases
  • a cost saving to London’s NHS and social care system of around £5 billion
  • one million fewer new air pollution related hospital admissions in London.

In addition to the policy areas controlled by the Mayor, if no wider action is taken by the Government to reduce air pollution:

  • around 550,000 Londoners would develop diseases attributable to air pollution over the next 30 years
  • the cumulative cost to the NHS and social care system in London is estimated to be £10.4 billion.

Sadiq today visited Columbia Market Nursery School, one of 20 nurseries in the most polluted areas of London that received an Air Quality Audit and grant from the Mayor’s programme. The nursery is also one of six selected to trial an indoor air filtration system as part of the Mayor’s scheme and will benefit from when the ULEZ area is expanded up to the North and South circular roads in 2021.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Air pollution is a national health crisis that is contributing to thousands of premature deaths in London alone. Toxic air causes long-lasting harm and could devastate lives for generations. This new data shows that the action we’re taking is already making a difference and saving lives. The ULEZ in particular will have a transformative impact in the coming years, with one million fewer air pollution related hospital admissions and billions of pounds saved to the NHS.


“I’ve moved fast in London to implement the most ambitious plans to tackle air pollution of any major city in the world - showing what we can achieve if we are brave enough to take bold action. The Government must take urgent steps to help clean up filthy air across the country, including with a new Environment Bill to give cities the powers they need and making World Health Organization air quality guidelines legally binding targets to be met by 2030.”

Co-Founder & COO of HealthLumen, Dr Laura Webber, said: "Our modelling shows that if no action is taken to reduce current levels of pollution, by 2050 the number of new diseases attributable to man-made NO2 and PM2.5 in London is estimated to be up to 850,000. This will place a significant burden on London's health and social care system. The Mayor’s policies in place to reduce and restrict NO2 and PM2.5 are expected to have an important and positive impact on the reduction of air pollution-related disease across London over the next 30 years."

Susannah Kerr, Head of Public Affairs at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This new report shows the transformational impact that measures to curb air pollution can have in improving the capital’s health and reducing strain on the NHS. Air pollution is a public health emergency. Our research has shown that tiny toxic particles known as PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

“It’s clear that ambitious action to tackle the sources of air pollution are necessary to protect the nation’s health. The Government’s Environment Bill provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help everyone breathe cleaner air. Adopting the World Health Organization’s guideline limits on air pollution into UK law by 2030 would drive the action we need against toxic air.”

Executive Headteacher of Columbia Market Nursery School, Lynn Cottle, said: “I’m really proud that our nursery, with such a long history, is helping to innovate and protect children’s health to give them the best start in life. Following our air quality audit, we are especially pleased to be awarded funding from the Mayor and Tower Hamlets to install a green screen that will reduce pollution in the playground and to improve the ambience of our outdoor space.”

Matt Croucher, Associate Director at WSP, the engineering professional services consultancy which undertook the air quality audits, said: “WSP is proud to have supported the GLA in this important programme. Delivering improvements to air quality at our schools and nurseries is a complex challenge which requires a truly multi-disciplinary approach. Our team developed a holistic package of measures to reduce emissions and lessen exposure to harmful pollutants in and around the nurseries, drawing on our expertise in transport planning, air quality, buildings and energy. In undertaking the air quality audits, we met with a passionate group of individuals representing both the nurseries and the borough councils who were eager to make a difference, and enthusiastic about delivering a range of solutions to improve local air quality for the children and the wider community as a whole.”

Notes to editors

  • Read the report on long term health impacts of exposure to toxic pollution (NO2 and PM2.5) in London here:
  • The long-term health impacts of changing exposure to NO2 and PM2.5 in London was commissioned by the Greater London Authority and carried out by HealthLumen.
  • The report found that the policies in the London Environment Strategy (including the ULEZ) are predicted to result in the avoidance of 295,000 new cases of NO2 and PM2.5 related disease and 1.23 million new air pollution related hospital admissions London-wide by 2050. This equates to a cost saving to the NHS and social care system of £4.96 billion.
  • King’s College London research found that, if the Mayor had not implemented a series of hard-hitting measures to tackle pollution, London’s air would not come into compliance with legal limits for another 193 years. However, with the Mayor’s air pollution measures, King’s College analysis indicates that London’s air will reach legal limits in 2025. 
  • The ULEZ is the centrepiece of our plans to clean up London’s air – the boldest plans of any city on the planet and it is exceeding expectations, reducing harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution by almost a third in central London zone. We want to go further and will be expanding the ULEZ up to the North and South circular roads in 2021, alongside tougher Low Emission Zone standards for heavier vehicles this year.
  • Other air quality policies in the London Environment Strategy include Low Emission Bus Zones, no longer licensing new diesel taxis and London-wide emission standards for construction machinery.
  • Road vehicles are one of the main causes of London's air pollution, resulting in breaches of World Health Organization limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5)

Air Filtration Systems report

  • Trials of six Air Filtration Systems (AFS) were funded by the GLA and undertaken by WSP consultancy from April 2019 until October 2019. The six participating nurseries were selected using an evidence-based approach, which included the findings of air quality audit assessments, site visits, baseline air quality monitoring in and around the nursery, and modelled air quality data.
  • The report found that AFS can be effective in the right circumstances at reducing PM2.5, and to a lesser extent NO2, in a real-world nursery environment. Given the dynamic nature of classrooms, with opened doors and windows, constantly varying occupancy and pupil movements, the fact that AFS have been able to demonstrate a positive impact upon the nursery indoor air quality is an encouraging outcome of this trial. However, currently there are no UK design standards, minimum performance requirements or testing criteria for air filtration systems. Sadiq is writing to the Secretary of State for Environment, George Eustice, and the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, calling on the Government to urgently address this in order to help educational establishments and local authorities make a more informed choice about whether to install an AFS. This will ensure they are in a better position to do all they can to reduce exposure to air pollution as safely and effectively as possible.
  • In May 2018, the Mayor announced £250,000 to launch a new air quality audit programme to support 20 nurseries in the most polluted parts of London, including Columbia Market School. The programme included an assessment of indoor and outdoor levels of PM10, PM2.5 and NO2 concentrations and children’s travel to and from the school by WSP consultancy. Recommendations have been provided to each nursery on how to reduce children’s exposure to poor air quality and ways to improve travel behaviour, such as local walking routes. A £4,500 grant will be provided by the Mayor to each of the 20 nurseries. Tower Hamlets have offered to match fund this support for Columbia Market Nursery School.
  • Read the report:  


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