Londoners have been breathing illegal air for years now in violation of European legal limits. Over the last two and a half years the Mayor of London has taken three big backward steps in addressing this problem.
That is why I have written to the European Commission to express my complete lack of confidence in the Mayor reducing air pollution below the legal limits in 2011.
The Commission yesterday rejected applications from four other countries for time extensions to fix the problem.
I believe that the complacency exhibited by all levels of government in this country, should be dealt with in a similar way. The Mayor’s own health impact study estimated that the equivalent of 4267 deaths in 2008 were attributable to long term air pollution.
The abolition of the western extension of the congestion charge later this year will lead to an increase of traffic and air pollution in the area. The decision to suspend the third stage of the low emission zone puts back action against light commercial vehicles that is desperately needed.
The halting of six monthly inspections of black cabs, despite 2,389 failing their inspection in the first year, was another step in the wrong direction. In the light of all of such decisions I have no confidence that the UK will achieve the legal limit values for air pollution next year.
I fail to see why the Mayor thinks that London’s air quality will suddenly improve next year. We have been exceeding European limits for the last decade.
Provisional figures for 2010 show that 5 of the monitoring stations in London are already over the PM10 daily limit and others could tip over before the end of the year.
Whilst there are several actions identified in the mayor’s draft Air Quality Strategy which will have an impact in the medium to long term, the hosing of streets with dust suppressant is the only significant short term measure and that is still at the pilot stage?
The Mayor’s list of measures contained in his draft Air Quality Strategy have also been hit badly by the cuts. The detail has yet to be made clear, but he recently stated that there will be cuts to the budgets of car clubs, the smarter travel scheme and electric vehicle charging points.
These were all measures that were aimed at tackling air pollution. Even the very firm commitment for every new bus to be a hybrid from 2012 onwards, has now turned into a mere aspiration to do their best.
I have therefore asked the European Commission to reject the application for an extension on the time limit for meeting the PM10 limit values. This is unless the Mayor includes three key new policies in his Air Quality Strategy.
First, central london needs a very low emission zone with even stricter controls on which vehicles should be discouraged. Secondly, there has to be more regulation of bus and taxi engines, to ensure that the promises of pollution reduction do actually happen. Lastly, we need traffic reduction. That means not only keeping fares as low as possible but combining this with the introduction of road pricing in London to build on the achievements of the congestion charge.
If the European Commission do grant a time extension, it will simply let the government and the Mayor off the hook and set the legal processes back by three or four years.
The problem of air pollution can be solved, and solved quickly if there is the political will behind it. The Air Quality Strategy will be the test of whether the Mayor is willing to make the hard decisions needed to improve the health of Londoners.