Kingston Citizens’ Assembly on Air Quality

Kingston’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly met for two days early in November, with a second weekend session scheduled at the end of the month, to consider the widespread problem of local air pollution and come up with possible solutions. The 40 citizens, sitting around five tables, each with a facilitator, had been randomly selected and sorted to be demographically representative (by external agencies, not hand-picked by the Council, cynics!), and the day started with some useful guidance on listening and participating. The Assembly then heard and discussed a mass of interesting data, opinions and suggested solutions from academics, experts and consultants working in the fields of planning, transport and public heatlh, council officers, and two local residents, including me, speaking on “The experience of poor air quality in Kingston”.

By the end of each day the participants must have been exhausted by the amount of information they had had to process, information that those of us interested in the local environment and air quality will have had several years to absorb! As an observer I could see that participants were working hard, though I was not allowed to overhear their deliberations or speak to them (observers sat to one side of proceedings and were segregated in coffee and lunch breaks); but as a speaker I had the opportunity after my presentation to sit with each group for ten minutes to hear their questions and try to answer them, and I came away impressed by their open-minded and thoughtful questions and comments, and in general by the way the Assembly had been organised and participants selected. We tend to mix with neighbours, friends and people with similar backgrounds and interests to ours, and most meetings and committees are dominated by self-selected volunteers from fairly limited demographic groups, so it was a privilege to encounter such a wide range of my fellow-citizens, not just the “usual suspects” - and very encouraging. It will be interesting to hear the proposals that emerge at the end of the Assembly and to see the presentations and full report in due course.

Marilyn Mason, KEF, November 2019

See Kingston Council website on the Citizens' Assembly for an account of the Assembly and links to videos of the presentations - https://www.kingston.gov.uk/info/200284/tackling_the_climate_emergency/1635/news_and_events/2

See also KEF's work on Air Quality at https://e-voice.org.uk/kef/kef-issues/air-quality/.