A growing city is a polluting city: Will London always have an air quality problem? London

5 June, 2017 | 18:30 - 20:00

A growing city is a polluting city: Will London always have an air quality problem? London

About this event

Air pollution is one of London's greatest environmental challenges. Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions from road transport, domestic and commercial gas use, aviation and construction have led to a significant health risk to those living, visiting and working in the city. Up to 9,400 Londoners died prematurely due to toxic air in 2010 and the Capital continues to breach EU legal limits.

Some say that as a growing city, predicted to have 11 million residents by 2050, London will always face air quality issues. More people travelling around the city, increasing congestion on the road, a reliance on gas boilers in old building stock and high levels of construction activity have all contributed to poor air quality and are unlikely to change. Perhaps we have to accept that a growing city will always be a polluting city and instead focus our efforts on changing lifestyles to reduce exposure to pollutants. We can do this through monitoring pollution and keeping people away from the most polluted streets on days of particularly poor air quality.

On the other hand, some say that we can solve the problem. Through a mixture of incentives, such as vehicle scrappage schemes and disincentives, such as road user charges, we can have a city where growth does not come at the expense of the environment. We can change our construction methods, replace the most polluting vehicles and gas boilers and make new developments greener. It may take time, but with the correct policies, greater public awareness and buy-in from different sectors, London could finally solve its air quality problem.

The ICE London G&S Big Debate will present both sides of the argument, before asking you, the audience, who was most persuasive.


Professor Peter Hansford, Chair of Construction and Infrastructure Policy, UCL

Kathryn Woolley, Senior Air Quality Consultant, Hilson Moran
Tim Chatterton, Senior Research Fellow, University of West England

Simon Birkett, Founder and Director, Clean Air in London
Rob Rule, Group Business Development Director, Hexadex

Get involved

Read the ICE London Air Quality Taskforce's interim report, Engineering Cleaner Air

Tell us your experience of air quality in civil engineering



Peter Hansford - Professor, Construction and Infrastructure Policy, UCL

Peter Hansford

Peter was government chief construction adviser from 1 December 2012 until November 2015. He was previously an executive director at the Nichols Group where he was engaged in strategic consulting and advising on infrastructure developments and capital investment programmes. He has over 30 years' experience in the development and delivery of major infrastructure and building projects.

Peter is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of the Association for Project Management. He served as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers from November 2010 to November 2011. Peter was a member of the steering group for the Infrastructure UK cost study to seek ways of reducing the cost of major infrastructure projects in the UK.

Peter has worked for government, public and private clients, consultants and contractors in a variety of industry sectors in the UK and overseas. He has been executive director, Infrastructure at the Strategic Rail Authority and a non-executive board director of Crossrail.

For the motion:

Kathryn Woolley - Senior Air Quality Consultant, Hilson Moran

Kathryn Woolley

Growing up with severely asthmatic siblings gave me an early understanding of air quality and its impacts. I studied Environmental Science BSc (Hons) at the University of Plymouth, focusing all of my optional research projects on air quality. This included a research trip to China in my second year a collaboration with Sun Yat-Sen University and City U on the issue of trans-boundary particulate matter in Hong Kong & Guangzhou. Following the completion of my degree I joined Ramboll as a graduate air quality consultant where I learnt to apply my university understanding to a commercial product.

I joined Hilson Moran in September 2015, progressing with added responsibility and support within Hilson Moran to senior in July 2016. I'm passionate about air quality and although the health impacts have been known for decades, air quality has never had such a prevalent media presence. Site suitability is a very important aspect of Air Quality that I'm particularly interested in, as it ensures new development avoid introducing new residents into locations with poor air quality. Early positive engagement with the project team allows me to ensure consideration of air quality in the design process and enables measures not only to reduce exposure but consider the wider impact of the scheme.

Tim Chatterton - Senior Research Fellow, Air Quality Management Resource Centre at the University of the West of England

Tim Chatterton

Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Air Quality Management Resource Centre at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He has spent 20 years working on air pollution, climate change and energy issues at the nexus of academia and policy. His work covers both physical and social sciences. He has worked extensively for and with the UK government and local authorities, the European Commission and internationally. He is currently Co-Investigator on a 4-year project to improve air quality in Delhi, India, and Social Science Director on the Horizon 2020 CLAiR-City project looking at future clean air-low carbon futures across Europe.

Against the motion

Simon Birkett - Founder and Director, Clean Air In London Campaign

Simon Birkett

Simon Birkett is Founder and Director of 'Clean Air in London' which has campaigned since 2006 to achieve full compliance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for air quality throughout London and elsewhere. Simon is a member of the High-Level Intergovernmental and Stakeholder Advisory Group for the United Nations Environment Programme's sixth Global Environment Outlook due to report in 2018. He is also a member of the Executive Council of the European Chapter of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and Chairs the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum.

He obtained a first class honours degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Science from the London Business School before working for Schroders then HSBC for 21 years including latterly as Group Head of Financial Education in the Corporate Sustainability Department. Simon has been included in Evening Standards' list of Top 1,000 most influential people in London in each of the last two years. Simon is quoted frequently in the UK and international media and has over 26,000 followers on Twitter and 35,000 on Facebook.

Rob Rule - Group Business Development Director, Hexadex

Rob Rule

Rob has over 25 years' experience of business leadership and technology commercialisation in several industry sectors. He started his career in the chemical industry with ICI and DuPont in various roles encompassing R&D, sales & marketing and business management. In recent years he has specialised in the creation and growth of young technology-based businesses, either as an investor or director. He joined the Hexadex Group in 2010 to create a new division (Ceramex Ltd) specialising in the refurbishment of Diesel Particulate Filters from cars and heavy duty vehicles.

More recently he moved to the role of Group Business Development Director for Hexadex, responsible for mergers and acquisitions. Rob has a BSc in Physics, a PhD in materials structure and a Business Masters degree.