Boris Johnson’s skewed priorities are creating a public health disaster

Money that could have been spent cleaning up London's air has been frittered away on vanity projects

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Dirty air has caused  the premature deaths of 75,000 Londoners during Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. Had he acted to reduce levels of harmful pollution, many could have led longer and healthier lives.

Transport emissions are a big part of the problem and buses are among the biggest polluters on our roads. Yet during his eight years in office, this mayor’s efforts to clean up London’s bus fleet have been unimpressive.

Every year, the mayor’s transport authority Transport for London (TfL) replaces around 500 new double decker buses when revisiting contracts. Boris Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone pledged that all new vehicles entering service from April 2012 would be hybrid diesel-electric or better.

Boris Johnson stood by this commitment initially, but by the time he had to find the money for it in 2011 he axed it.

As a result, four-out-of-five of London’s buses will still be diesels by the time Boris Johnson leaves City Hall. Even though they should have been retrofitted with filters that will cut their oxides of nitrogen emissions, they will still pollute far more than the cleanest hybrid buses on the market.

It would have cost Boris Johnson around £31m to ensure that all 533 of the dirty diesel double deckers that he has put onto London’s streets since 2012 had been diesel-electric hybrids instead. But where could he have found that money from?

  • He has spent £10m on his Garden Bridge project even though there’s no 24 hour public access and pedestrians are already catered for by Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge nearby

  • He frittered away £4.25m on plans for a fantasy Thames estuary airport that would have destroyed a world-class coastal wetland and was ridiculed from the outset

  • He has wasted over £15m making the case for new road river crossings at Silvertown and at Gallions Reach and Belvedere when filthy air already blights east London communities and illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution could see crippling EU fines passed down to local councils

  • 800 of the mayor’s bloated New Routemasters have cost Londoners £20m more than the equivalent number of off-the-shelf hybrids. Hundreds of them rolled off the production line with outmoded Euro V engines and by 2020 they will be the worst performing buses in the city.

    They don’t even qualify to enter the mayor’s own central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which starts in that year, but he plans to let them in anyway.

Today at the London Assembly’s plenary meeting I’m going to hold Boris Johnson to account for this appalling choice of priorities, in the face of a public health disaster.

Last month I explained how I would sort out the bus fleet by amending the mayor’s 2016-17 budget to cancel his dangerous Silvertown Tunnel project, investing the £10.7m to phase out out-dated diesel technology from the capital’s streets over the next few years. This would pave the way for a ULEZ that would cover all of inner London, not just the city centre.

This would save lives, give London a bus fleet to be proud of and bring clean air to communities across the city, from Peckham to Putney and Highgate to Hoxton.

The next mayor needs to get their priorities right and urgently modernise our bus fleet.

Darren Johnson is a London Assembly Member for the Green Party. Follow him on Twitter

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