Sadiq Khan is already tackling London’s air pollution crisis

The mayor is inviting Londoners to consider a series of key proposals


Sadiq Khan, the new Labour Mayor of London, made tackling London’s dirty air one of his key campaign pledges – and less than a week after he took office in May, he made his first statement on improving air quality, saying that he would be launching a consultation this year.

True to his word, Sadiq chose the 60th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act, the fifth of July, to deliver a keynote speech outlining some of the proposals that he wants Londoners to consider. These include:

  • A £10 T-Charge, on top of the existing Congestion Charge, for the dirtiest vehicles;
  • The Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expanded out to the North and South Circular roads for motorbikes, cars and vans – and making it London-wide for lorries, buses and coaches;
  • Bringing in the ULEZ in 2019, not 2020 – and all double-decker buses to be compliant with ULEZ requirements from 2019 not 2020;
  • Creating clean bus corridors by putting the cleanest buses onto the dirtiest routes, in a bid to tackle air pollution hotspots;

Sadiq is also instructing officers to draw up detailed proposals for a diesel scrappage scheme, to hopefully put pressure on the government for them to introduce such a scheme nationally.

This comes after my own analysis last month revealed that the number of diesel vehicles on London’s roads rose by nearly a third since 2012, despite growing concerns about the health implications of diesel emissions.

The Mayor has also rightly called for a new Clean Air Act, fit for the 21st century.

As Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson, I really welcome the fact that the Mayor has not let this slip at all, and is pressing ahead on his aim to improve air quality. Unlike 60 years ago when city smogs caused by coal fires were visible and obvious to all, nitrogen dioxide gas and the tiny particles that lodge in our lungs are completely invisible.

But with so many London schools situated in air pollution hot spots and many routes to school involving children travelling along the most polluted roads, we are stunting the lungs of generations to come.

Children are especially vulnerable for two reasons, as studies have now proven. Firstly, children are shorter, so they are much closer to the emission sources, but also their lungs are not fully developed and are more susceptible to the impact of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

This Government (and the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson) have a shameful record on dealing with dirty city air. It is fair to say that 15 years ago, when less was known about the negative health consequence of diesel, the then  government made buying diesels more attractive by changes to vehicle duties.

However, since 2012 when the World Health Organisation defined diesel as “definitely carcinogenic”, nothing has been done.

Client Earth took the government to Court over the breach of air pollution levels and won, due to the fact that their air quality improvement plan was woefully inadequate. Client Earth are going back to Court again in October to get the government’s new plan reviewed – and the Mayor has joined their action – as it still is inadequate.

Meanwhile the previous Mayor allowed a further 170,000 diesel vehicles to come onto London’s roads since 2012 alone, just adding to London’s dirty air.

So we really need to push ahead as quickly as we can, taking action that will have a real impact on the situation.

We have a new and determined Mayor, who is really willing to put out some strong ideas to tackle a major health problem.

He is bound to receive opposition – but I for one will be doing my best to make sure that Sadiq delivers on his pledge to clean up London’s dirty air.

Leonie Cooper is a Labour Assembly Member for Merton and Wandsworth and chair of London’s Environment Committee

You can find more information about the first stage of consultation on the Talk London website 

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2 Responses to “Sadiq Khan is already tackling London’s air pollution crisis”

  1. Michael Ryan

    The additional pollution load from incinerators at Edmonton, SELCHP, Colnbrook etc needs to be considered as emissions have an additional adverse impact on health.

    Professor Frederica Perera was awarded 250,000 dollars last year in recognition of her research:

    “Dr. Perera’s research tracked the pre- and post-natal health of 720 mother-child pairs in New York City.
    She found that in addition to causing infant mortality, low birth weight, allergies, asthma, slower brain development and respiratory illnesses, there is also a correlation between exposure to air pollutants and childhood obesity.
    “Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the air can alter the normal hormonal signalling and affect growth and development, so there is a tendency for some children to become more obese,” said Dr. Perera who reviewed the findings of that study, first reported in 2013, at one of four public presentations by Heinz Award winners on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.”

    Parliamentary Questions about the link between incinerators and higher infant mortality have been brushed aside and need to be revisited:

    Incinerators: Health Hazards
    Mr Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on any effects on infant mortality and morbidity arising from residence in the vicinity of an incinerator; and if he will make a statement. [61144]
    Mr Simon Burns: The Department has not commissioned research specifically on any effects on infant mortality and morbidity arising from residence in the vicinity of a municipal waste incinerator. The Health Protection Agency published a report of its review of the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern municipal waste incinerators in September 2009. The report concludes that while it is not possible to rule adverse health effects 22 Jun 2011 : Column 325W
    out completely, any potential damage from modern, well-run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small that it would be undetectable.

    22 Jun 2011 : Column 324W

    (Andy Love MP: Hansard, 22 July 2011, Column 325W)

    Infant Mortality: Newham
    Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the trends in infant mortality rates in Newham. [137790]

    (Lyn Brown MP: Hansard, 18 January 2013, Column 945W)

    Incinerators: Greater London
    Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions he has had on the potential effects on human health in Newham of the operation of the South East London Combined Heat and Power incinerator. [137767]

    (Lyn Brown MP, Hansard, 22 January 2013, Column 142W)

  2. Patrick Nelson

    The Victorians and everyone else with sense since have known that a very good way of improving air quality is to increase the number of trees in a city – yet what do we see today – quite the opposite, with trees disappearing and not being replaced. If anyone wants to see to what an extent that British cities have lost their trees they should study old photographs of the many roads that were once tree lined but now have not a tree in sight. Trees – clean air and muffle noise – if they were made in factories they would be putting them up all round the city.

    Furthermore London is a city with a high proportion of singletons and childless couples who drive around in full size cars. Those Londoners who have invested in micro-cars and small electric cars need to be rewarded with special parking and other inducements – as the more people who take them up – the better the air quality and traffic flow are liable to be.

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