Less traffic is the only direct solution to air pollution

London began a public health emergency last Friday, but it got hardly any attention because air pollution episodes are so common


Who do you trust to solve London’s air pollution crisis? Air pollution has now become one of the big issues of the London Mayoral elections, because of the years of broken promises and half measures which have left a million people breathing illegal air. I not only have the right set of policies to clean up our air, I guarantee that I will take the hard decisions to put them into effect.

London began a public health emergency on Friday, but it got hardly any media attention because air pollution episodes are so regular we only give headlines to the really, really bad ones.

There will have been tens of thousands of people finding it harder to breath, or at risk of a range of things from heart attacks to asthma attacks. There will have been hundreds of thousands who took a bit more damage to their lungs and, according to the statisticians, shortened their life spans.

The danger list of medical conditions associated with air pollution also includes the huge number of children going to schools which are near the most polluted roads. These children could find that they have 20 per cent less lung capacity than they should grow up with. However, there will be no road closures, or Paris style emergency measures to reduce traffic this week.

Boris Johnson has failed to take the necessary bold actions and I genuinely believe that only elected Greens can be guaranteed to take the tough decisions to protect the health of Londoners.

Unlike the very noticeable sub-Saharan sand which blew across Europe picking up pollution from Paris and industrial centres to the south of us, the pollution that started on Friday was a stable body of air that refused to go anywhere – we were stewing in our own juice.

Modern air pollution is called the ‘invisible killer’, but the nitrogen oxide which mostly comes from diesel vehicles does add a brownish tinge to the air as you look out over London from somewhere like Highgate Hill, or Greenwich.

Complacency and inaction have defined the Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments of the last two decades. As the next Mayor of London, I will stand up for Londoner’s health and end illegal air pollution by the end of my first term, in 2020.

That can’t be done by relying on an Ultra Low Emission Zone for central London (as David Cameron suggested in yesterday’s PMQs) when that will leave much of inner London polluted. We need to get rid of older polluting vehicles and diesel vehicles throughout all the polluted areas of London.

Above all I promise urgency. Plans for buses to be not just cleaner, but electric, need to be fast tracked. Black cabs, mini cabs and ordinary drivers all need to be given financial incentives and support to make the switch to cleaner or zero emission vehicles, along with a network of at least 25,000 electric charging points. There needs to be a carrot as well as a stick to phase out diesel vehicles in London. I will ensure we use both.

We need to learn the lesson from the last two decades that we can’t rely solely upon technical fixes to end air pollution. Car manufacturers cheat the system, government regulators don’t enforce the rules and progress is painfully slow.

Less traffic is the only direct solution to air pollution. London desperately needs a smart form of Pay As You Go driving which would charge drivers according to where they drive, what time they drive, so that we can discourage driving in pollution hotspots. The money raised needs to be invested in clean public transport and a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians.

You can’t solve air pollution by making it worse. That applies equally to new roads across the Thames as it does to the expansion of Heathrow airport. More roads mean more cars and that inevitably means more pollution.

Any Mayoral candidate who tells you otherwise is either fooling you, or fooling themselves. I will scrap all the plans for new roads and invest the money in public transport alternatives.

Promises that something will be done ‘as soon as possible’ can’t be trusted after 20 years of failure and with a million Londoners still breathing in illegal levels of air pollution. I will be the Mayor that ends this public health emergency.

Sian Berry is the Green candidate for mayor of London

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