Mayor of London promises ‘big, bold’ air pollution policies

13th May 2016


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Naushad Tahsildar

London's planned ultra low emission zone would expand greatly and a charge would be levied on the most polluting vehicles under proposals from the new mayor to improve the capital's air quality.

Sadiq Khan, who was elected last week, appears to be living up to his pre-election promise to tackle the city’s air pollution.

Today, Khan announced he would issue a consultation before the summer containing 'big, bold and sometimes difficult policies' to bring the capital in line with EU limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The proposals include extending the city’s planned ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ) to the North and South circular roads, and potentially bringing forward its 2020 start date. The zone was developed by previous mayor, Boris Johnson, but is due to only cover central London. Any vehicle entering the ULEZ would have to pay a charge unless they meet emission limits.

Khan also said he would require all heavy vehicles operating in Greater London to meet the zone’s, regardless of whether they enter the ULEZ.

Separately, he intends to implement a new charge ‘for the most polluting vehicles entering central London’ from 2017.

‘I have been elected with a clear mandate to clean up London’s air – our biggest environmental challenge,’ Khan said. ‘The previous mayor was too slow on this issue and the government has been hopelessly inactive. I want to act before an emergency.’ Part of his reasoning for focusing on this issue is personal, he added, having recently developed asthma.

The consultation would also include proposals to ensure Transport for London (TfL) leads by example, Khan said. This would include requiring buses to meet the ULEZ’s standards a year early and, from 2018, the transport authority would be allowed to purchase only hybrid or zero-emission buses. TfL would also be given the go-ahead to assess the costs and challenges of implementing a diesel scrappage scheme, although only as part of a national one delivered by the government.

In his election campaign, Khan had promised to expand the ULEZ, while in his victory speech he specifically promised to give Londoner’s cleaner air. On 10 May, he also became an interested party in NGO ClientEarth’s latest judicial review of the government’s air pollution policies.

ClientEarth is arguing that government policies are not robust enough to ensure UK cities currently in breach of EU NO2 limits comply by 2020. It says the government must do more in London, which is not expected to reach the limits until 2025. A date for the judicial review has yet to be set.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews welcomed Khan’s consultation, but said: ‘We will have to wait and see if the detail of the mayor’s proposals matches his ambition. With air pollution causing over 9,000 deaths a year in London it is vital that all options to solve this problem are on the table. It will be crucial that the ultra low emission zone ensures vehicles meet the most stringent emission standards when driving on London’s roads, not just in discredited laboratory tests.’

Khan’s comments were timely as they came a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) released an updated database on air pollution in cities. Some 80% of people who live in urban areas breathe unsafe air, the body said. The worst offenders are developing countries, such as China and Iran, but the database shows 10 UK cities have air that breaches the WHO’s limit values for both PM2.5 and PM10.

In London, annual mean levels of PM10 are 22ug/m3 – just above the recommended 20ug/m3. Levels of PM2.5 are 15ug/m3, compared to the recommended 10ug/m3.

‘It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a priority,’ said Carlos Dora, a coordinator at WHO’s public health and the environment department. ‘When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows.’ Reducing air pollution normally has knock on benefit of reducing a country’s CO2 emissions, he added.

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