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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