Green Man Swarm Held on the High Street

Putney Pollution Busters and XR Wandsworth aiming to highlight issue of air quality

Protestor hold 'Green Man Swarm' on Putney High Street
Protestor hold 'Green Man Swarm' on Putney High Street. Picture: David Smith


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At noon this Saturday (15 May members of Putney Pollution Busters (PPB) and XR Wandsworth held a “Green Man Swarm” at the junction of Putney High Street and Upper Richmond Road.

A “Green Man Swarm” doesn’t stop any traffic. Protesters move into the road with banners when the “green man” pedestrian light stops the traffic and then move back on to the pavement when the phase ends.

Holding banners saying “End Putney Air Pollution” and “Think Before You Drive” the aim was to raise awareness of what they describe as the illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution in Putney and demand action.

Four of London’s worst pollution blackspots are in the borough of Wandsworth, two of which are in Putney. The others are on Lavender Hill near Clapham Junction, where a similar protest was held the previous Saturday, and Wandsworth Town Hall.

PPB was set up on by a group of local people 5 February after the publication of the statistics about Putney’s air quality. It’s first act was to create a petition to Wandsworth Council and Sadiq Khan asking for the problem to be tackled. :

“Nobody should be forced to use a local high street that is poisoning everyone with daily illegal pollution levels because the council is failing to use everyone’s council tax to collectively protect us all,” says local resident and PPB founder Andrea Gilbert.

The protest was held at the junction of the High Street and Upper Richmond Road
The protest was held at the junction of the High Street and Upper Richmond Road. Picture: David Smith

Following the Putney protest , around 30 people – local residents and members of the Save York Gardens campaign and XR Wandsworth – carried out another Green Man Swarm in York Road in Battersea outside York Gardens where co-developers Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey are removing mature trees to enable housing to be built. Fifty mature trees were cut down on Friday, out of 124 due for immediate felling to make way for redevelopment. A new social housing block will be built right up against the pavement where the trees were with noise and air pollution meaning no windows can be opened on that side which XR Wandsworth say will mean air conditioning will be required when it is hot.

Protesters held up a banner proclaiming “Another World Is Possible” and signs warning people they were in a “Toxic Air Zone”. A local resident with six-year-old twin boys joined the protest with their own messages: “Stop cutting the trees” and “I miss the park”.

“We’re not against the building of homes, of course we’re not, but we believe we can have homes and trees,” says Emma Buckley, local resident and mother, who has been a leading participant in the campaign to save the trees.

In fact, the redevelopment is all about providing new private units, not more social housing. At present there are 527 social housing units on the estate; after the redevelopment, the number will actually fall to 484, an 8% decrease (though the Council point out that they will be larger, and if you include ‘affordable’ rent units along with social units, there is a small increase of 8%). By contrast the number of private units is set to increase from 218 to 1,744, a staggering 800% increase.[1] The new private units will of course be shielded from York Road by the new social housing block. At least 300 more trees are due for the chop as the development progresses.

“Reduce air pollution to within legal levels” is the first of XR Wandsworth’s four demands of Wandsworth Council. These four demands are at the heart of our Wake Up Wandsworth campaign, launched on Wednesday 7 April, in response to the Council’s lethal inaction around the climate and ecological emergency, which it declared in July 2019.

Some estimates suggest that air pollution is responsible for around 36,000 premature deaths annually in the UK, and up to 9,400 in London as well as having many other adverse effects on health. On 16 December a south London coroner made legal history by ruling that air pollution was a contributory cause of the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in February 2013.

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May 20, 2021

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