Air quality is a low priority for London’s Mayor

So the Mayor has decided to press ahead with his plan to delay the next stage of the Low Emission Zone – meaning that the most polluting vans and LGVs can belch out their fumes across London for another two years.

This is another indication of how low down his list of priorities tackling London’s poor air quality is.

New City Hall figures show that the number of Londoners dying early because of the air they are forced to breathe is now over twenty times higher than the number killed in road accidents in the city. Yet this latest, unnecessary move points to a Mayor who is intent on doing as little as possible, and who is culpable in a huge public health disaster.

When the Low Emission Zone was first introduced it was estimated that the rate of premature deaths and hospitalisations caused by poor air quality was about 1,000 – or four times higher than the number of road fatalities in London.

However, three separate reports issued in the past year (including the Mayor’s own research) have found that in Greater London poor air quality contributes to more than 4,000 premature deaths every year.

As deaths from road traffic accidents in London have fallen, so deaths from the city’s poor air have risen. There were 184 killed on our roads in 2009 – twenty times less than the number estimated to have died thanks to the silent, invisible killer we all have to breathe in.

So what should the Mayor do? He has resisted calls to implement the next stage of the Low Emission Zone this month as planned. And when 4,000 people are dying every year, a two-year delay is certainly not insignificant.

But he still has the opportunity to overturn some of the other regressive steps he has taken since taking office.

He should abandon his plans to cut the size of the congestion charge zone in half.

If he doesn’t, he will increase traffic and pollution in the area by almost 10 ten per cent and will throw away between £55-£70 million of annual revenue which could otherwise be spent keeping fares down and improving public transport.

He should re-instate instate six-monthly inspections of black cabs, which many failed because of their emissions rates.

He could improve information for Londoners on local air quality levels to enable them to make more informed choices about how they get around.

He could introduce a retrofit subsidy scheme for black cabs and begin work on improving public transport to Heathrow airport – up to three quarters of toxic nitrogen oxide pollution in the local area is caused not by planes but road vehicles.

London was singled out this summer for breaching legal limits for dangerous airborne particles. The UK government faces a £300m fine from the European Commission if London’s air is not improved and, by the Mayor’s own admission, his proposals won’t bring London’s air within European legal limits. In the meantime, pollution levels are cutting Londoners’ lives short by an average of two years.

This is real and urgent but, more than halfway through his four-year term, the Mayor has only just consulted on his paltry plans to tackle London’s air quality problem.

We know now that far more people die because of our poor air than are killed by speeding cars yet there is nothing to suggest he appreciates the scale of this problem or has even the slightest inclination to tackle it.

Thousands are dying early unnecessarily every year; in some parts of our city one in five children already suffers with asthma; and the state of our air is so bad it is stunting the growth of our young people’s lungs.

There cannot be many greater, more urgent causes for a Mayor to take on, so why is Boris Johnson seemingly intent on sleep-walking through it? There are practical, realistic solutions to these problems that a Mayor who had the desire to do so could implement. Delay and inaction is the opposite of what is needed.

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