The European Commission has granted a “temporary and conditional” time extension for the capital to meet EU air targets to curb airborne particles known as PM10.
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 the Greater London Urban Area exceeded.
An earlier application for an extension was denied in December 2009 when EU officials ruling the capital “did not meet the minimum requirements”. That decision left the capital facing court again and potential fines of £300m.
However EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik today announced a three month extension, giving the Government and Mayor until 11th June to meet the targets.
The extension is conditional and requires “htat short-term measures are introduced to control, or, where necessary, suspend activities which contribute to the risk of the limit values being exceeded.”
It is also dependent on Mayor Boris Johnson revising London’s air quality plan “to include the short-term measures”. The modified plan must be submitted to the Commission.
In a statement Commissioner Potočnik said: “Air pollution from PM10 has serious impacts on human health. That is why EU legislation sets strict standards. The Commission expects Member States to clearly demonstrate that they are doing their utmost, in the interests of their citizens, to comply with the standards in the shortest possible time.”
Although the EU has granted an extension it has refused to withdraw previous written warnings over London’s non-compliance. This means if the targets are not met the Commission can proceed with previously threatened court action.
Darren Johnson, Green party politician and member of the London Assembly, said the demand for the Mayor to submit the amended plan to the Commission showed the EU “simply don’t trust the UK Government and Mayor to protect the health of Londoners.”
Johnson added:”By refusing to withdraw the written warnings the Commission has shown that it is prepared to take a tough stance on a problem which, according to a report commissioned by the London Mayor, accounted for the equivalent of around 4,300 premature deaths in 2008 in London alone.”
Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Mike Tuffrey repeated calls for the Mayor to include a Clean Air Zone in his revised plans.
Tuffrey commented: “The case for urgent action on London’s appalling air quality never rested on the views of the EU Commission. Londoners’ health is at grave risk and that alone is the reason action to tackle air pollution.”
LibDem London MEP Sarah Ludford said she was “glad that the European Commission has taken the coalition government’s pledge to fully comply with European air quality standards in good faith.”
Ludford said the decision meant “the LibDem-Conservative coalition has succeeded where Labour failed in showing determination on a clean-up.”
Labour’s environment spokesman on the London Assembly claimed the capital’s poor air quality was the result decisions by Mayor Boris Jonson to reverse policies introduced or planned by former Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Murad Qureshi AM commented: “If Boris Johnson hadn’t halved the size of the congestion charge zone, cancelled taxi inspections and suspended fines for the most polluting vehicles, London and Britain would be in a much healthier state today.
“Dirty vans and minibuses would have been off our roads by now but for the actions of this Mayor. He has taken London backwards in the fight to improve the city’s air and should take urgent action now to put this right.”
That criticism was repeated by Friends of the Earth’s London Campaigner Jenny Bates who said: ““Boris Johnson has promised to make London the greenest capital in the world – but he’s scrapped measures, such as the western extension of the congestion zone, that would have helped cut pollution.”
Bates warned the Mayor needed to “come up with an urgent plan to protect Londoners’ health” to avoid “a massive fine in the European Court.”
Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said the granting of a temporary and conditional time extension was the “an ideal mechanism to maximise pressure on the UK to comply with health based laws.
“It requires urgent air quality action in London and ‘freezes’ the current enforcement process. CAL thanks Commissioner Potočnik and his team for the great care they have taken in reaching this decision.”
Birkett added: “We now need Mayor Johnson and the Government to play their part in tackling an invisible public health crisis with as many early deaths attributable to air pollution in London in 2008 as we thought occurred during the Great Smog in 1952.”