Almost ten years ago my family moved out of a small flat to the friendly community of London’s Bounds Green. It is an Edwardian cluster of once relatively quiet, traffic-free streets bordering the strange ‘dog-leg’ of the North Circular Road, where two local authorities meet. It was possible for our son and neighbours’ children to play in our road – with a little bit of care. Adults and kids alike had neighbourhood snowball fights across the street – the traffic was intermittent enough.
Today, it is different. Flawed road schemes transformed our Warwick Road into a new rat-run for vehicles trying to evade the North Circular, which had itself became clogged. And today, pollution – of noise and air – has become part of our lives in a way it was not in 2007.
From around 3pm, the rumble builds up as cars and lorries (despite a lorry ban) snake down the road. Each side are high terraced houses, so the fumes and emissions are caught as if in a tunnel. You can’t really have front windows open, but even so the surfaces of windows and furniture acquire a layer of tiny black particles. The house needs cleaning more often. And then you remember – you’re breathing in this stuff too.
Some people have it worse than others. One of my neighbours had always been able to control his asthma, but now he suffers chest infections and shortness of breath. On windless days, the pollution just sits: another neighbour’s allergic rhinitis, which used to be seasonal, can now be at any time of year. Dry, irritated eyes, sore throats and headaches are common.
People have to think about their neighbourhood in ways they never wanted to. As one new mother said, “Our local primary school is excellent but the playground is next to the North Circular. Every time I walk past I ask whether I am really going to send my son to play next to one of the most polluted roads in London.”
We started a Warwick Road Action Group. We’re installing air-pollution monitors, and campaigning to change the road layout and end the rat-run, with a Facebook page showing lorries lumbering down the road. But because any real change involves two boroughs and a separate transport authority, progress is painfully slow. You get one party onside, and then another falls out. But we live in hope.