Air quality: the next challenge for the property market

Emily Bernstein

Private Banker

Air pollution receives far fewer column inches than single-use plastics or rising temperatures, and yet it’s an environmental issue that touches all of us, with serious consequences for property buyers – particularly in London.

I found out first-hand when, as part of a one-week experiment for the Air We Share project, I was asked to monitor the levels of pollution on my commute, in the office and in my own home. The results (which I talk about in more detail here) underlined that no person is untouched by the harmful effects of pollution.

 

Close to 95% of the capital’s population live in areas that exceed the World Health Organization’s guidelines for the toxic air particles PM2.5 of 10mg per cubic metre of air by more than 50%. In the UK, it’s estimated that as many as 36,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution, be it through respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses, or other complications.

 

Personally, I avoid busy roads when walking, choose not to drive unless absolutely necessary and never burn candles in my home. But the issues go much further, affecting all of us, irrespective of where we live or what we do. And for homebuyers, understanding the level of air pollution in your area is essential.

 

Awareness is spiking – so too is pollution

Pollution impacts us not just on a personal level, and is affecting the capital’s reputation for liveability.

 

According to research from the environmental charity Hubbub and Air We Share, almost a third (28%) of people named air pollution as one of their top three environmental concerns. More than a quarter (27%) said air pollution in their nearest town/city is generally bad, and a further 37% feel it is getting worse.

 

Emily Bernstein
Emily Bernstein, Investec Private Banking

We have an individual and collective responsibility to spread awareness about air pollution.

 

My experience taught me that I was wrong not to factor air quality into my homebuying journey. Even opening a window onto a busy road can cause a huge spike in air pollution. And though you may own a beautiful home only a stone’s throw away from Regent’s Park, for example, nearby Marylebone Road is one of the most polluted areas in London.

 

Spreading the message

Because pollution is invisible, all too often it’s hard to appreciate the impact on our health. But a string of campaigns and initiatives, from the hyperlocal to the national, are boosting awareness.In May of this year, a citizen-funded advertising campaign took aim at the property market with a series of billboards to highlight the levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution throughout much of the UK. Slogans included “These houses cost an arm, a leg and a lung” and “Location, location, lung disease”.

 

Speaking to The Guardian, Humphrey Milles, founder of the Central Office of Public Interest, the non-profit advertising group running the campaign, said: “Like crime rates, Wi-fi speeds and schools, we are going to make air quality a major consideration in the housing market, give everyone an air pollution rating for their own front door, and then the tools to act.”

 

These campaigns, coupled with initiatives like Clean Air Day and wider policy changes like the Ultra Low Emission Zone, brought in by Transport for London to ensure vehicles comply with stricter emissions standards, are thrusting the issue of air pollution into the public consciousness.

 

Even so, 42% would like to see more advertising campaigns to educate people on the issue and to advise them on next steps, according to Hubbub’s research.

 

What can you (and others) do?

Campaigns – or lack of campaigns – aside, we have an individual and collective responsibility to spread awareness about air pollution.

 

Already, 43% of respondents to the Hubbub survey said they had made efforts to drive less and either walk, cycle or take public transport instead. Of those who drive, 4% have already switched to a zero-emission vehicle or hybrid, and 22% would be willing to do so without any financial incentive.

 

Expect air pollution to become a consideration for anyone living or buying a property. 

 

Of the participants, 44% believe individuals are one of the three most responsible parties for reducing air pollution in cities, followed closely by local government (43%) and central government (40%). Only 30%, however, put employers in the mix, and yet there are precious few employers taking proactive steps to either inform employees about air pollution or take steps to address it.

 

Homebuyers concerned about pollution in a prospective location can now access information on a property as part of the conveyancing process. Environmental reports routinely include information on contaminated land, flooding risk and ground stability, but many companies now include pollution levels as standard.

 

As awareness rises in the coming months and years, expect air pollution to become a consideration for anyone living or buying a property. But for now, we all have a responsibility to spread the word and start to take action.

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