Poorest areas in London have worst pollution

When it comes to London’s exceptionally poor air quality Mayor of London Boris Johnson has his head stuck firmly in the sand.

By Murad Qureshi AM, London Assembly Labour group’s environment spokesperson

When it comes to London’s exceptionally poor air quality Mayor of London Boris Johnson has his head stuck firmly in the sand.

Official emissions figures released yesterday from Transport for London (TfL) showed which of the capital’s roads are the most polluted and overwhelmingly the areas hardest hit are in the poorest parts of London.

One of the few things Boris has been consistent on during his mayoralty has been his failure to address the capital’s worsening pollution problem. London has failed to meet the legal requirements for lowering emissions along with Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham for at least seven years.

Even the threat that the government will have to pay fines if they don’t reduce emissions has not forced them into action.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that Britain was in breach of EU law on NO2 emissions from exhausts. London continues to have the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of any capital city in Europe. The worst polluted roads for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and airborne particles (PM2.5) last year included the North Circular, Romford Road, Montagu Road and Alfred’s Way and the Dartford Crossing – all in east London and in the poorest parts of the city.

The Mayor’s own research shows that poor air quality is London’s silent killer, causing over 4,000 premature deaths each year. In some London boroughs, as much as eight per cent of deaths are due to poor air quality. And in the face of this crisis, Boris has consistently dithered and made it a problem for his successor to tackle.

Earlier this year he announced a policy for introducing an Ultra Low Emissions Zone in central London in 2020. Not only would this be too little too late, in reality he has been unable to provide any details of this policy because he had not undertaken a feasibility study of his own announcement. This is grandiose – yet hollow – rhetoric.

In his recent 2020 Vision: Ambitions for London he vaguely touched on how to improve London’s roads and remove pollution but offered no concrete solutions to this very real problem. Boris was supposed to be the ‘Cycling Mayor’ but even his promises on this are empty – Londoners will continue to use other modes of transport if they don’t feel roads are safe enough to cycle on.

Boris’s new buses will be on the capital’s roads soon, however there will only be 600 of these new buses out of a fleet of over 8,000 and they won’t actually be any cleaner than the current generation of hybrid buses. Boris needs to prioritise putting greener buses on the routes with the highest pollution levels and bring forward the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

The Mayor is happy to talk about the problem without offering any solutions. Immediate, bold action is what is needed but it is increasingly doubtful that Boris will be the one to deliver it.

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