Developers could soon be required to achieve an agreed standard of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) to gain planning permission for new buildings.
The Mayor of London is being urged to include IAQ levels in his revised London Plan for buildings over a certain size following intensive lobbying from the Clean Air in London campaign.
Clean Air in London says more than 1,000 deaths in the capital so far this year are attributable to exposure to dirty air.
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) gave its backing to the planning proposal and said this would be a key point of discussion during an IAQ event it is hosting during National Clean Air Day on 15 June at which Mr Birkett is speaking.
“The beauty of focussing on IAQ is that it can make an immediate difference,” said BESA Chief Executive Paul McLaughlin. “While the lengthy debates and legal challenges over how to address outdoor air pollution rumble on, our industry can make an instant impact by putting measures in place that protect the health of building occupants.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan has made tackling pollution a key priority of his term in office and is likely to be supportive of the planning proposal, which would be a “game changer”, according to Mr Birkett.
“Many roads in London have the highest concentrations of NO2 in the world,” he said. “A myopic focus on energy efficiency and CO2 has led to the problems we have now.”
Mr Birkett, who has also called for a new national Clean Air Act that includes IAQ measures, pointed out that the Building Regulations already contain requirements for maintaining NO2 at a safe level that should be enforced. The proliferation of individual, portable air monitors on smart phones etc. also means that people were starting to challenge their employers over air quality in workplaces, he added.
“People spend about 90% of their time indoors and the cost of filtration is about 10% of the cost of actually getting air into the building,” said Mr Birkett. “The cost of filters is tiny compared to salaries and the impact of poor air quality on people’s health and productivity.”
Momentum behind this issue is growing following the launch of a third legal challenge by Environmental lawyers ClientEarth over the government’s plans for cleaning up outdoor pollution.