Mayor failing Londoners on air quality

  • New figures show number of people dying early in London because of poor air quality now over twenty times higher than number killed in road accidents1
  • Labour’s environment spokesman on the London Assembly calls on Mayor Boris Johnson to take urgent action and stop “sleep-walking” through a public health disaster.

Labour London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi, has labelled Boris Johnson’s plans to improve the quality of London’s air as not fit for purpose. Responding to a consultation on the proposals, which closed this week, Murad Qureshi urged Boris Johnson to save lives by:

  • Stopping plans to cut the size of the congestion charge zone in half
  • Dropping his opposition to charging polluting vans and minibuses from driving into Greater London from October
  • Reinstating six-monthly inspections of black cabs

Over the longer term, the Mayor should consider a range of measures. These include:

  • Targeted “low emission zones” to cut traffic in pollution hot-spots
  • Improve information for Londoners on local air quality levels – via text message alerts, for example
  • Introduce a vehicle retrofitting subsidy scheme
  • Improve transport to Heathrow airport as new figures show three-quarters of toxic nitrogen oxide pollution in the local area could be caused by road vehicles2

Problems identified with the Mayor’s plans include:

  • By the Mayor’s own admission, they won’t bring London’s air within European legal limits3
  • Not enough emphasis on the serious health impact of London’s poor air (the damage to children’s lungs is not mentioned until page 114)4
  • Over-reliance on funding from central government but no indication of where this money will come from and no desire to lobby for it5 
  • Not enough to encourage a reduction in the number of car journeys taken in London
  • Only 300 low emission “hybrid” buses out of a 7,000 strong fleet will be in service by 2012 (just 4% of all London buses)6
  • Over emphasis on cost-cutting and financial barriers to action and not enough emphasis on the savings to the NHS, individuals and businesses that would be brought about by improved air quality

London was singled out this summer as having the worst air pollution in Europe and 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.7 The Mayor of London published research recently which found that over 4,000 people in the city could be dying early because of the dire state of the air they breathe.

As well as cutting Londoners’ lives short by an average of two years, poor air quality also stunts the growth of children’s lungs and leads to increased rates of asthma.8

Speaking at City Hall as he submitted the response to the Mayor’s proposals, Labour’s environment spokesman on the London Assembly, Murad Qureshi, said:

“We know that far more people die because of the invisible, silent killer that is our poor air than are killed by speeding cars yet there is nothing in the Mayor’s plans 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 a Mayor can take on yet Boris Johnson seems 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. But by sitting back and allowing it to get worse on his watch all he is doing is making tougher, more draconian measures likely in years to come.”

  • Boris Johnson’s plan to scrap the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge (WEZ) will halve the Congestion Charge zone in size
  • TfL predict losing between £55m and £70m of revenue if WEZ is scrapped – money that could be invested in public transport or keeping fares down9
  • TfL predict an 8 per cent increase in traffic and pollution if the WEZ is scrapped10
  • Boris Johnson suspended the next phase of London’s Low Emission Zone. The third phase was due to come into force this October and would have meant the most polluting vans and minibuses would be charged £100 a day to drive into Greater London.

Ends

Notes

1. There were 184 fatalities caused by road traffic collisions during 2009 (http://bit.ly/94fGRH). An Institute of Occupational Medicine report commissioned by the Mayor and published in June 2009 estimated that 4,267 deaths in London could be attributed to the city’s air quality (http://bit.ly/aPu8GF)

2. A report presented to the Heathrow Airport Consultative Committee (Air quality impact of no flights, 15/4/10 to 20/4/10) found that nitrogen oxide “concentrations due to background and road emissions were far larger [than those due to aircraft and other airport activities] at all sites; between 73 and 84% (depending on the site).”
3. P.8, Mayor’s draft air quality strategy, says: “The Government’s modelling shows that by the maximum time limit of the extension, 2011, Greater London is the only region in the country that is at risk of not meeting the limit value” (http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/MAQSPublicConsultationStrategy.pdf)

4. P.114, Mayor’s draft air quality strategy

5. e.g. P.16, Mayor’s draft air quality strategy says “Significant investment in air quality improvement measures is required by central Government to reduce concentrations in London and other urban areas across the country.” P.54 says: “The Mayor believes that the Government needs to do more.”

6. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/2019.aspx

7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/25/london-air-pollution-europe

8. Oral and written evidence from Prof. Frank Kelly, King’s College London, February 2009, to Assembly Environment
Committee

9. Mayoral answer to the London Assembly (15 October 2008) http://mqt.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/question.do?id=23419

10. Draft Revised Mayors Transport Strategy Integrated Impact Assessment, Appendix E – Report on Removal of WEZ.