Smog, Bowes Primary, Intel and looking ahead

Been worried about air quality for years. As a kid in the city where I grew up, the school authorities used to force us to cancel afternoon sports practices due to smog. So it's been awful witnessing the same thing again in Bowes.


A few years ago I had Enfield Council's Sustainability scrutiny look at the existing air quality sensors. They really weren't good enough. So went out a while back (ostensibly as part of a "smart cities" agenda) to doorstep Intel. And wangled about 100 free air quality sensors out of them. See




X number of these sensors are to be rolled out in Bowes to gain a more granular understanding of air quality at different distances from the North Circular. Hopefully to inform behaviour.  This will directly involve the community - watch this space imminently


In the mean time, I totally support our friend Tom S. representing my fellow Bowes Primary governors (plus the School leadership) with the strong steps they are taking to protect the children. This is a crisis and although the big picture is too many cars in London (thus insufficient public transportation alternatives) - not to mention some fairly wimpy stands taken by Boris at his first GLA election re: not enforcing maximum car pollution standards - short-term we need to react as Tom and friends are doing.


Long-term the case has to be more obvious than ever to anyone criticising our moves to increase cycling in Enfield (see Mini-Holland bid)  that today's automobile-centric society has flaws.

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Comment by Matthew Kitching on April 3, 2014 at 20:01

How timely this is given the current smog situation.  You can really feel the deterioration in air quality.  Our son is not allowed out to play at his nursery school at the moment.  I look forward to seeing the data these sensors will provide.  Fantastic that corporate giant Intel have provided the sensors - assuming the cost of installation/maintenance/data analysis/reporting is covered, I would love to know how we can use the data to support  a reduced carbon/pollution agenda.  I recall that Ken Livingstone had proposed regulation that would have forced smaller vehicles (transit vans etc.) to conform to stricter emissions regulations (enforced by the LEZ camera system) but when Boris Johnson came to power this was delayed and was subsequently forced in by European legislation.  I understand there was a pledge from the mayor to tighten regulation in 2015 - could such future measures be brought forward by using the data from this sensor network?  Hybrid buses are great for the centre of our city - how many are on the roads in our Borough?

Comment by Dewi Lewis on April 4, 2014 at 12:29

The availability of more granular data will be very interesting and it doesn't need to be a long term project - the data from the station and all others in the area are cyclic.

But we must take care not to confuse the current high pollution with local conditions. But its an excellent opportunity to bring the general problem to the public - a beautiful coincidence of the current weather and the met office taking over the publication of these data. Not even if Boris was as clever as he thinks he is in his own mind or not ignoring his responsibilities here, would London be under any EU target this week. [Sarcasm/Satire button on] Blame those Africans with their deserts. If only they would tidy up all that sand. Or put up a big wall. It's always foreigners isn't it? [Sarcasm/Satire button off].

The monitoring station at Bowes Primary flags up some nasty incidents over the past few years, but they are not local events: the red lights were on everywhere. The air on the N Circ isn't as bad as it used to be nor as bad as in the centre of town - cast your minds back to the static traffic that used to be normal outside BP. You can argue about the setting of the danger levels  but that station reports the air being within legal bounds with the odd exception which were usually weather related. These are EU targets. A UK government would have set them higher I'm sure (ignoring all the science as it did so) so we'd be even worse off (that's for Mr Farage obviously).

Whilst a governor at Bowes (not anymore), and being a scientist / awkward squad I took a close interest in the results from that station. I never felt any worries over the long term quality of the air given the location. If you want permanently cleaner air tomorrow,  well..... sorry, but move. If you have asthma or other respiratory problems, take care. The school took a very pragmatic approach over the past few days, which I agreed with. It's no different to a massively rainy day in terms of playtime. Do I think any of the kids were in long term danger if they went outside? Not really. But after 30mins bombing around in it, you are not going to get a sensible learning environment in the next lesson!

The pollution levels measured at the station and the playground are going to be vastly different (give me a sensor!). That's the beauty of a whacking big Victorian school building:  it is far more effective at shielding the playground than any barriers you could put up there. Just don't leave the windows on the N Circ side open!

There is only one way to reduce the pollution in the Bowes area: have fewer emissions. Simple. Except it's not obviously. 

Put the sensors into the hands of schools  - there's plenty of local skills (ahem) to help kids do this far better than you could ever imagine. Citizen Science is easy once you've got a plan.... and of course if you analyse the data _scientifically_ (hello again Mr Farage and Mr Lawson). Mapping it to health incidents is horribly complicated but if we could get an estimate in the 1950s (an estimated 4000 excess deaths in one two day peasouper) we can do it better today - see the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis website. 



Comment by Matthew Kitching on April 5, 2014 at 8:01

Anyone who watches the news knows the current air quality issues have nothing to do with local traffic, thankfully, but as you say its a topical subject.  I too looked at the data from the Bowes School monitoring station and found no reason for concern, there are occasional 'spikes' in the data but nothing more sinister.  The response of the school this week was pragmatic, no problem with that whatsoever.  In terms of the 'experiment' it will be interesting to see what the data can be used for.  School projects & community science sounds great, would be good to understand at a very local level what impact screening and tree planting has on the presence of particulates in zones around the North Circ - I'll volunteer to have a sensor in my back garden!  Maybe too late to influence the designs for Ritz Parade and other developments on the North Circ?  In any case its good to hear from someone with a scientific background who has a positive view on the data and the long-term trend, in particular that the air quality (and traffic flow) in the area is improving over time.

Comment by Dewi Lewis on April 5, 2014 at 15:41

I'd say that the trends on that sensor don't really show a worsening situation. Certainly if you think of traffic volume. I know that doesn't help - the air is worse because there's twice as many cars. But the emissions per vehicle is lower than it was 10 years ago simply by considering the emissions regulations we have. But then the type of car in the area has probably changed for the worse (why do you need a 4x4 when you're car has never seen mud?). And more of those are the ones that are going to contribute to poor air quality because they are not travelling through the area they are locals.

The particulates are definitely from diesel - remember when diesel was a saviour? - and taking the tax break off it would make a petrol engine a better buy but there's a price to pay by having more petrol engines too. Electric vehicles will make a huge difference. But not for a while. Trees are probably a more realistic 5-10 year solution.

As an aside why are there giant pot plants in the MIDDLE of the pavement cycle path on the NCR between  Powys Lane and Green Lanes? Flipping irritating!

Unfortunately bits of the data are not available and of course a lot of it is when there was construction (which isn't going to help on the PM10 levels). But they don't really go back far enough. Certainly I would guess that if they did, you would see far worse air 10 years ago. My main point was that local data is very local. The solutions are non-local. Again this week's nasty stuff had absolutely nothing to do with increases in UK pollution. In the same way the acid rain that destroyed Scandinavian lakes in the 70s had nothing to do with the Scandinavians - that was us.

I personally think the NCR flows better than it used more often. It still grinds to a halt but I don't dread driving Green Lanes - Arnos Grove (before going onward I hasten to add! I'd walk to Arnos Grove!) as I used to. Is it as good as if we had a big tunnel? Probably not. But we didn't get one and we won't now. Lessening traffic is the best way. You do that by making people not drive places! Can you reduce the amount of traffic on the NCR? Local yes. Lorries probably not - not if you want a choice of supermarkets. I've not been here long enough to know what the NCR was like before the M25!

When I last visited Bowes Primary I saw the kids survey that suggested that a significant number get driven there. Given that the "catchment area" has shrunk, I think there's an issue there! The 10minute walkt round the NCR for me for 8 years wasn't lovely, but I'd say that any health risk of the walk was better for the kids and me than not doing a brisk 10mins and using a car.

[Yes, I appreciate that you can be at a school and then move away]. And (typically big) cars drop kids off at APS. Why? ]

Centre of town = a lazy catch all for zone 1! This is the problem, with a reply like this - it's hardly an analysis! I can find you a place that is better/worse on any day/average than anywhere. It's like the tabloid "London hotter than San Tropez" nonsense. Or the marvellous front page "Climate lies exposed" with a picture of snow under it. With air quality the main problem is amount of emission. No matter where. The general poor air quality is a London wide thing. Certainly next to main roads like the N Circ it's going to be worse. But go 50m away (or behind a big school!) and you are back to (not fab but...) "normal" London air (lend me the sensor! lets do the measurements). There were some lovely maps of this around but I can't find them right now.

Like I said, not as much of an analysis of the data as I'd like but a general commentary (and ranty bits of course).

Comment by Alan Sitkin on April 5, 2014 at 15:55

Hi Dewi. Am working with a residents association to organise an imminent meeting regarding how we can optimise the value derived from the new sensors I've wangled from Intel, who will be there on the night. Please please attend! Date TBA

Comment by Dewi Lewis on April 5, 2014 at 16:24

more than happy to! i don't read actively sometimes so a reply to this thread will get my attention!

Comment by Alan Sitkin on April 6, 2014 at 23:43

The Advertiser has run this article on smog and cars in Bowes.

Comment by Nev Martin on April 7, 2014 at 11:52

Tom - with regards to parents driving to drop kids off at Bowes, you'll find that increasingly, there have been lots of parents who have played the system. Renting flats and bedsits near the school to apply for a place, and then retreating to their normal residences once it has been secured.  Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop this appalling pratcice; I'd wager only a small number of the kids attending live withing the 'catchment' of the school.

Comment by Liz Wright on April 19, 2017 at 14:21
Interesting level of debate here - which has been missing from recent communications about air pollution in Bowes Ward. Recently residents on BR have acquired their own air pollution monitors in conjunction with Friends of Earth. The results of this are somewhat alarming as there is nothing to shield BR residents from the toxic emissions from the cars.
Comment by Liz Bell on July 24, 2020 at 23:29

Hello, I've just come across this thread as a result of wanting to know more about air pollution levels locally, prompted by the current low traffic neighbourhood initiative. Does anyone know if these sensors are still around, and is there any data available please?

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