BY JAMES TWOMEY
An environmental action group disrupted traffic at three locations on Friday morning to raise awareness over air pollution in the area.
Extinction Rebellion – the group most well-known for bringing Waterloo to a standstill for a week in April – was back out on the streets, this time in Lewisham, with a co-ordinated hour-and-a-half of disruptive action against motorists during the morning rush hour.
Starting at 7.30am the protesters, armed with banners and leaflets, moved onto the roads at Deptford Bridge, Lewisham railway station and Lewisham Town Hall in Catford.
Dave Evans, 32, protested at Lewisham station and said he was there to put pressure on Lewisham council.
He said: “I’m here to take a stand against rising levels of pollution and against the council’s policies like telling residents to close their windows to avoid the pollution.
“The action has to be disruptive. We’ve been talking about this issue for 30 years, and no one has listened. Everyone is culpable. Actions like this are small and yes they cause delays to people, but we are facing extinction.”
The protesters took their positions at some of Lewisham’s busiest junctions, where Extinction Rebellion says the level of pollution exceeds the World Health Organisation’s recommended level by six times.
Daisy Wyatt, 19, a nursery worker from Greenwich, was protesting at Deptford Bridge and said she was concerned about children breathing the polluted air.
Daisy said: “The air pollution in Lewisham is six times the legal amount. This is not good for the health of the children who walk to school in this area.
“I think the government needs to stop investing in the Silvertown tunnel and start investing in cycle paths. We can’t afford more roadways – we will just end up with more cars on the road.”
There were many irate motorists waiting in long lines of traffic – one construction worker who wished not to be named said: “Why don’t they f****** protest in India or China instead of coming here?”
But Mhairi Tordoff, another protester at Deptford Bridge, said: “Drivers have been supportive and understanding, saying things like ‘well done’.
I think there’s a misconception that people don’t understand what we’re doing and it’s important for us to listen to people, too.”
Kate Ship was a key organiser at the Catford protest, and organised the group to take positions on certain parts of the road.
Kate said: “I hope the council holds a citizens assembly to talk about this issue and think of measures to reduce congestion and pollution on these roads.”
Susannah Pickstone, 26, is a cafe manager and lives on the South Circular near Catford.
She said the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who also lived on the South Circular and whose death was linked to high levels of pollution, brought her to the protest.
Susannah said: “We need to raise awareness of deadly air pollution. Living directly on the South Circular is worrying thinking of long-term effects like shortened life expectancy and dementia.
Ella Kissi-Debrah has spurred me on. Her death showed how much of a problem air pollution is. “I’d like to see the council bring in cycle superhighways, which would encourage people to cycle and get out of their cars.”
Lewisham councillor Sophie McGeevor, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “As one of the first councils in the country to declare a climate emergency, we share the same goal as Extinction Rebellion – to save the planet and clean up our air.
We understand that without action the planet is heading towards a climate catastrophe.
“We are taking bold action to improve air quality, whether that is supporting the ULEZ and campaigning for it to include the whole borough, investing in cycling and walking infrastructure, proposing to make the most polluting vehicles pay more for parking, installing green walls outside schools, increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations, or investing in Lewisham’s award-winning green spaces.
“We want to go further and faster to meet this challenge, but with local government having gone through nearly a decade of austerity we need central government support to do so.”