Property vs Pollution
Many of London’s most desirable property hotspots are amongst the most pollution affected. Given even outside of those prime locations, levels across the remainder of the city regularly exceed published WHO limits by as much as 50 per cent, could pollution begin to seriously affect property prices?
Article by Charles Fraser – Simpson
Despite the topic being raised a number of times in the media recently and the glaringly obvious health concerns surrounding current pollution levels in London, it’s interesting that this doesn’t seem to have become an overriding concern within the property world.
Could it be that the lack of affordable UK housing means that buyers are willing to overlook this issue of pollution levels in the location they’re buying because it’s an ‘uncomfortable truth,’ which gets in the way of owning their own home? Or is it simply that flood plains, subsidence and Japanese Knot Weed are deemed to have a far more immediate negative financial impact?
Despite, having 35,000 acres of parkland and open spaces, (roughly 40 per cent of London), making the city the greenest in the EU, a recent study has suggested that around 200,000 children in London are registered asthma sufferers. That’s an incredible 10 per cent of London’s child population. This is worryingly the worst statistic in Europe and if London sets the tone for the rest of the UK, as it so often does, then you can begin to imagine a similar story in other major UK cities.
This year has been no exception with measured levels in London regularly exceeding the published World Health Organisation’s limits by as much as 50 per cent. In fact it was suggested that 95 per cent of London’s population is being subjected to these dangerous levels. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has openly called these levels “sickening” not only because it clearly doesn’t reflect well on London as a city to live and visit but also because of the short and long term health implications, particularly with children and their development.
What effect though do these worrying levels of pollution have on London property? Could there quickly become a time when we potentially see the most polluted parts of London massively down-valued as people shun these areas seeking instead ‘greener pastures’? Particularly interesting when you consider that high value and desirable areas such as Mayfair and Marylebone are among some of the worst affected areas. In the past few weeks, the Head of the National Association for Estate Agents was calling for local air quality information to be published on all property listings, so this might well start quickly gaining some traction.
London already has a congestion charge within central London charging as much as £11.50 per day and as of October, a new ‘T-charge’ was introduced placing an additional £10 levy on the most polluting vehicles entering the congestion zone. So that’s vehicle pollution dealt with for the time being; only it’s not because it’s not actually forcing those worst polluting vehicles off congested London streets; it’s simply a justified opportunity to make money from the situation. What then can be done to address the nearly 200,000 domestic, wood burning stoves which are apparently sold in the capital every year?
The Clean Air Act of 1956 is still the most up to date attempt to try and combat pollution in the UK’s cities. Many parts of the UK, with a large section of central London, fall within a ‘smoke control area,’ meaning that you can’t burn certain fuels in your home such as logs and coal in a bid to prevent ‘smog’ which can be particularly prevalent in times of fog just like vehicle emissions during humid periods. The problem is that short or getting in touch with your local council to relay your address and investigate for sure whether your property happens to be in one of these ‘smoke control areas.’ There’s no handy government website or database which clearly displays this information, ensuring that no one can be in any doubt or plead ignorance. In this internet age where people expect to be able to find an answer to this sort of question online and quickly, it’s rather ill-judged to assume that people will self-regulate. In addition, if you were to be burning restricted fuels in your home, who practically is monitoring this and has anyone actually been fined recently for being in breach?
When you purchase a property in the UK, your solicitor will apply for what are known as ‘Local Searches’ as part of their legal due-diligence. The local authority in which the property being purchased sits within is responsible for providing evidence on various topics such as nearby planning applications which may impact your property. A second more in depth part of the search does deal with environmental factors such as flood risks and whilst it should list officially whether the property sits within a ‘smoke controlled area’ there is currently no detailed evidence provided on pollution levels. There has after all been for some time now an obligatory ‘Radon Gas’ survey as part of these local searches. To own a property exposed to high quantities of Radon gas would make it nigh on impossible to sell. It’s interesting then that no buyer is currently made automatically aware during this process that they might be buying a property in an above average polluted area. Unless you research this subject in detail yourself when buying a property, it’s quite possible that you might be buying in a declared, high pollution area. You could unconsciously be not only damaging your health and that of your children but risking the future capital growth of your property if a pollution level check happens to become mandatory as part of an official local search in the future.
Whenever something negative is returned in a local search, such as a chancel repair charge (a historic clause allowing a nearby church to approach you for contributions towards repair), you can, depending on the severity, purchase an indemnity insurance policy against it. I wonder how many buyers and their solicitors are currently discussing whether an indemnity policy can be purchased to protect against any negative impact as the result of possible future pollution checks?
This depressing outlook might not be so bleak as the fog of a health crisis and negative impact on properties in the worst affected areas could realistically be lifted by none other than the automotive industry. It’s already addressing the issue of pollution as a necessary bid for its own survival. Hybrid vehicles are quickly becoming more accessible with the likely scenario that fossil fuel vehicles will be a thing of the past on London’s roads in the next 10 – 20 years. Even the producers of the latest wood burning stoves are working towards ever more economical and efficient models. It’s a fair assumption then that pollution levels will reduce considerably as a result, especially in the busiest and most populated areas of our cities. We’ve known for a long time that the environment is not something that can be fixed overnight but it at least seems that the ‘green’ electric wheels are turning and property may well escape the indignation of being declared environmentally unfit for habitation.