Motorists told to take extra care, flights are disrupted across south and air quality plunges in cities from London to Belfast
January 26, 2017 — The ongoing cold, still weather is expected to send pollution levels soaring in London as freezing fog brings more disruption at airports and on the roads across the south of England.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, issued the highest alert for pollution in the capital on Monday and experts said air quality was expected to remain unacceptably low on Tuesday.
Widespread freezing fog also brought disruption for travellers and commuters. Heathrow announced it was to cancel 100 flights and there were also problems reported at Gatwick, London City, Stansted and Southampton airports.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “Persistent freezing fog across the south-east has reduced visibility at Heathrow again today.
“With [the airport] operating at more than 99% capacity, there are no gaps in the schedule that can be used for delayed flights and as a result, some passengers may experience disruption to their journeys today.”
He added that passengers should check their flight status with their airline before travelling to the airport.
“As always, Heathrow’s top priority is the safety of passengers and we apologise to those whose travel has been affected by today’s weather.”
Road users in the south were also being warned of difficult driving conditions. Dorset police reported 31 collisions on Monday – six times more than usual over that time on an average weekday.
The force is urging motorists to take extra care on Tuesday, while the Met Office warned that journeys were likely to take longer than usual because of the “adverse conditions”.
Alex Burkill, a meteorologist at the Met Office, said although the cold weather would continue for the next few days it should become clearer, with improved air quality from Wednesday.
“There is high pressure to the south-east of the UK and that is causing still, cold, damp weather causing frost and freezing fog.
“However, the [air] flow will increase from Wednesday and although it will still be cold that will bring clearer weather … and better air quality.”
According to the latest data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, by Monday evening eight regions of the UK were rated as having high or very high levels of air pollution, including the south-east, south-west, the east Midlands and Northern Ireland.
In particular, parts of Bristol, Belfast and Nottingham were among those flagged as having high 24-hour mean levels of PM2.5 particulates.
Experts said that was caused by the still conditions, car fumes and a peak in the use of wood-burning stoves.
As a result of the “very high” pollution alert, Khan has announced £250,000 in funding for 50 schools in London boroughs where levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide exceed legal limits.
The audits, to be carried out by a transport and environment consultancy, will highlight interventions that schools could put in place to lower emissions and reduce exposure to pollutants around school premises, Khan said.
Recommended measures might include moving school entrances and play areas to reduce exposure to busy roads, and introducing “no engine idling” zones and green infrastructure such as hedges and bushes to provide barriers to block out fumes.
The mayor said: “Every child deserves the right to breathe clean air in London and it is a shameful fact that more than 360 of our primary schools are in areas breaching legal pollution limits.”