The European Commission has refused to allow additional time for London to meet pollution targets, claiming the capital “did not meet the minimum requirements” for a time extension.
The 2008 air quality Directive allows Member States time extensions to meet air quality standards for PM10 (until 11 June 2011) and NO2 and benzene (until 2015 at the latest). During the extension period, limit values continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance.
In 2008 Greater London was the only UK air quality zone not in compliance.
The decision to refuse an extension is likely to pose a significant challenge to Boris Johnson who factored the granting an extension into his draft Air Quality Strategy. Critics say Johnson’s decision to abolish the western extension of the congestion charge zone and his delay in implementing phase three of the Low Emission Zone had undermined Government efforts to secure the extension.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Air pollution has serious impacts on human health and compliance with the standards must be our utmost priority. The 2008 EU air quality Directive recognises the difficulties some Member States have experienced in meeting the standards for PM10 by the initial deadline of 2005 and allows the possibility of a limited time extension. However, the Commission expects Member States to clearly demonstrate that they are doing their utmost to comply with EU standards in the shortest possible time.”
Commenting on today’s announcement Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said: “There are three immediate consequences of this decision by the Commission. First, the Government must immediately decide whether it will over rule the Mayor over the proposed delay in taking action against polluting white vans in London and the abolition of the western extension of the congestion charge. Secondly, the Mayor must rewrite his draft Air Quality Strategy to bring forward measures to close major roads during bad air pollution periods and to introduce stricter rules on vehicle emissions in the central London pollution hotspots. Thirdly, the Government must help fill the £70-£90m funding gap in the Mayor’s current plans to reduce air pollution.”
“The Mayor’s plans are in tatters and the Government’s complacency has been exposed, but this would be the wrong time for them to have a fight over whether the estimated £300m fine should go on tax bills, or central London’s council tax bills. The Government and Mayor can still avoid the fine and protect the health of Londoner’s if they unite and agree a new set of radical anti-pollution measures.”
Mike Tuffrey, leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group and its environment spokesperson, said: “The UK has ignored a decade of warnings about tackling London’s appalling air pollution which each year sends over 3000 Londoners to an early grave.
“The time for excuses has long passed. Even now fines can be avoided if the Labour Government and the Conservative Mayor stop passing the buck and take action.”
In October Tuffrey wrote to Commissioner Dimas saying an application made by DEFRA should be declined as “there are significant doubts that the Mayor of London will take sufficient action” to ensure the capital meets the targets. At the time Tuffrey urged Dimas to “warn the Government and the Mayor that they must produce a robust, funded, action plan for tackling air pollution in London.”