A “second and final written warning” has been sent to UK authorities by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik after the capital exceeded the limits for PM10 levels.
A statement issued by the European Commission today says it “is pursuing legal action against the UK for failing to comply with EU air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10. These particles emitted mainly by industry, traffic and domestic heating, may have negative effects on health leading to asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death. A second and final written warning has been sent to the UK for still exceeding the limit values for PM10 in a number of zones.”
EU directives 1999/30/EC and 96/62/EC set daily limit of 50 micrograms (μg)/m3 and yearly limit of average concentration value of 40 micrograms (μg)/m3 for PM10 emissions which both the Greater London Urban Area and Gibraltar have exceeded.
Although a 2008 air quality Directive allows for extensions to be given, a request to allow the capital further time to meet targets was refused in December 2009 with officials ruling claiming the capital “did not meet the minimum requirements”.
Expanding on the decision to refuse an extension, today’s statement says: “The UK submitted an exemption request for eight zones including the Greater London Urban Area. However, the Commission did not consider the exemption justified, as seven out of the eight zones already complied with the limit values.
For the Greater London Urban Area, the Commission considered that the UK had not shown that compliance with the daily PM10 limit value would be achieved by the time the exemption period expired in 2011. The UK has recently sent a further exemption request for Greater London, which is still under assessment.
However, given that zones still exceed the PM10 limit values, the Commission is sending the UK a final warning. If the UK fails to take the necessary measures to comply with the legislation, the Commission could refer the case to the European Court of Justice.”
London’s opposition parties have previously accused Mayor Boris Johnson of undermining efforts to improve air quality by priming to abolish the western extension of the congestion charge zone and his delay in implementing phase three of the Low Emission Zone.
London Assembly parties have been commenting on today’s escalation of the situation.
Murad Qureshi, Labour’s environment spokesman, said that although Mayor Johnson has “rightly highlighted” air pollution “his policies have actually made matters worse.”
“It’s no great surprise that London is singled out as the bad boy when our Mayor won’t take the bold, brave action necessary to improve the air we breathe.”
Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Mike Tuffrey said the announcement “must act as a real wake up call to both central Government and the Mayor of London” and repeated his party’s call for a Clean Air Zone “where the oldest and most polluting diesel engines cannot enter central London.”
Meanwhile Friends of the Earth’s London Campaigner, Jenny Bates called on Mayor Johnson to “introduce tougher measures to ensure that London meets EU air pollution limits, rather than relying so heavily on the Government to act.”
Bates added: “”The Mayor must abandon plans that would make traffic, air pollution and climate change worse – such as removing the Western Extension to the Congestion Charge, dropping traffic reduction targets, proposing more river crossings for vehicles and supporting a 50 per cent increase in flights from City airport.”
Former Mayor Ken Livingstone, who earlier this week launched his campaign to be adopted as Labour’s Mayoral candidate in 2012, has also sought to blame Johnson for the risk of legal action.
In a statement issued by his campaign team Livingstone said the capital needs “a Mayor who will take action to cut pollution in the capital which contributes towards the deaths of thousands of Londoners every year.
Livingstone said his successor would find himself “facing tough questions from Londoners about the huge environmental and economic cost of his policies.”