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Image credit: Alex Segre/Shutterstock.
    • Explosive new QC legal opinion suggests estate agents, property websites, surveyors and conveyancers are now legally obliged to inform prospective buyers and renters of air pollution levels
    • Firm offering free air pollution rating system for every UK address, using 1.5 billion data points generated by Imperial College London
    • Central Office of Public Interest (COPI) is petitioning for the disclosure of air quality to be mandated in the same way as asbestos
    • At the same time, Rightmove, the largest property website in the UK, rows back on the commitment to embrace air quality ratings

Data on air pollution seem to reveal that nearly 8 million[1] (25%) UK addresses have air pollution levels above World Health Organization limits. The data are provided by the group behind a new national pollution address checker at addresspollution.org, which makes free air quality reports available for every UK address. The findings come at a time when other studies appear to reveal that those who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who live in less polluted areas.

With the public release of this information, COPI is now attempting to drive legal action to force the disclosure of air pollution ratings by estate agents, property websites, surveyors and conveyancers, similar to the obligations to disclose other deadly substances, such as asbestos. A seemingly explosive new 20-page legal opinion[2] from Jessica Simor QC and Neil Fawcett, commissioned by COPI, reveals a ‘strong legal argument’ estate agents not doing so would be negligent.

The new national rating system also claims to reveal the best and worst UK addresses for air pollution. On London’s famous Harley Street in Westminster, 100% of addresses have a ‘Very High’ rating. Properties in this trendy area cost over £2.3 million on average. At the other end of the scale, in HU7 4, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, homes are worth just under £150,000 on average. Yet every address has a ‘Low’ rating.

Commenting on the data and legal findings, Rebecca Marsh of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) said: “Air pollution is information all consumers should be aware of before they make a decision on a specific property. Arguably, this is material information that all sellers or landlords should be providing to potential buyers or tenants.”

The website addresspollution.org uses annualised data, said to be accurate to 20 m2, to reveal the levels of three toxic pollutants – PM2.5, PM10 and NO2 – at each address. The data, from Imperial College London, is displayed in an easy-to-understand Air Quality Report (AQR). The AQR gives each address a Low, Medium, Significant, High or Very High rating. The ratings are based around the WHO limits – a ‘Significant’ rating means the address exceeds the limit for one pollutant. The health implications for living at the address are also given. These have been sourced from academic papers and vary depending on the specific pollution levels found at the address.

Visitors to addresspollution.org are then urged to sign an online petition demanding that estate agents – and property websites like Rightmove and Zoopla – disclose air quality information to buyers and renters at the earliest opportunity.

Humphrey Milles, the founder of the Central Office of Public Interest, said: “Air pollution affects everyone. It is a dangerous, invisible killer. With this national roll-out, it would be shameful for the property industry to not start acting in an honest, transparent way. Lives depend on it. Everyone has a right to know what they’re breathing. ”

With such detailed data now publicly available, and an increased understanding of the health impacts of living with toxic air, UK mortgage lenders are also keen to understand the potential impact on property prices in high pollution areas.

Mark Cunningham, CEO and co-founder of Whenfresh, which supplies property data to 8 out of 10 top lenders, said: “Air pollution has a major impact on human health and as public awareness of this issue grows, and the problem isn’t dealt with, it will clearly have an impact on the saleability and value of properties in high pollution areas. So like asbestos, radon, flood risk and Japanese knotweed, if data is available the mortgage lenders will want to understand it. Lenders take any environmental issues that might impact the value of the properties they effectively co-own very seriously.”

Originally launched in September 2019 as a London-only pilot, addresspollution.org is a people-powered initiative by COPI to tackle inaction on air pollution. The website received more than one million visits at launch. After two years of campaigning, COPI received funding to launch across the UK using over 1.5 billion data points from renowned university Imperial College.

When previously speaking about the London pilot, Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove, went on the record saying Britain’s biggest property portal would include air quality ratings if detailed national data was available. “It’s got to be based on good data. The UK has patchy coverage of air pollution. It’s London-centric.” Now that nationwide information is available, Rightmove have chosen to renege on their commitment.

On this point Humphrey Milles, said: “Air pollution is now public information, and it will never not be again. So through the official court or the court of public opinion, change is coming. The property industry will be forced to disclose air quality ratings and stop putting profits before people. And with the public finally able to see this invisible problem, the government will need to swiftly act to bring air pollution levels down.”

The addresspollution.org campaign is from the Central Office of Public Interest, a non-profit creative industry alliance. Funds to get the campaign off the ground were originally raised from a successful Crowdfunder campaign in 2019, making this is a truly people-powered campaign.

To get a free air quality report for your address and sign the petition, visit addresspollution.org.

Notes
[1] From “addresspollution.org data analysis”, Central Office of Public Interest, March 2021.
[2] “Air-Pollution and the Residential Property Market”, Jessica Simor QC, Neil Fawcett, March 2021.