At Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall yesterday I questioned Boris Johnson on the issue of air quality and its impact on public health, which is a major issue for Londoners and one that the Mayor has a clear responsibility to consider in his decision making.
Due to poor air quality in the capital we have more than 1,000 accelerated deaths annually – almost five times the number of fatalities resulting from road accidents in London – and 1,000 extra respiratory hospital admissions. At the last meeting of the London Assembly’s Environment Committee we heard from Dr Frank Kelly of King’s College that poor air quality may also be responsible for a reduction of 17 per cent in some children’s lung growth by the time they hit their teens.
In reply to my question, Boris listed his discussions with central government and the PM about the development of an electric car infrastructure in London and with Mandy at BERR about subsidy schemes for replacing the oldest and most polluting light goods vehicles – which in all likelihood will take him beyond even the extended deadline for compliance with the EU air quality directive. While Boris busies himself with grand schemes like these, which will have an impact only in the longer term, he fails to address the immediate problem that London has the worst air pollution in the UK and among the worst in Europe.
In the here and now, Boris’s decision to halt the further rollout of the Low Emission Zone to cover light goods vehicles tells us all we need to know about his concerns about air quality and its implications for Londoners’ health. It was hardly surprising that he announced this shameful decision on the day that the chaos caused by the heaviest snowstorm for many years dominated the media, in an evident attempt to bury the news in the snow.