Sadiq Khan, the new Labour Mayor of London, made a number of key pledges in his campaign. A hundred days into the new Mayoralty, what’s been happening on the environment?
On transport, the Mayor has announced the implementation date of the promised Bus Hopper ticket, to allow Londoners to switch buses in the space of an hour without needing to pay each time. The night tube has a launch date and many bus routes are now being provided with the latest low-emission buses. The Mayor has stuck to his position on Heathrow, advocating strongly for Gatwick – and also put in a bid to take on the Southern railway franchise. Next January, TfL fares will be frozen. So things are moving ahead in several areas on transport with knock-on effects for the environment – although much still to do on encouraging walking, cycling – and developing the TfL-owned public realm.
On the environment, SERA’s main area of interest, Sadiq made tackling London’s dirty air one of his key campaign pledges. 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 in 2016. True to his word, Sadiq chose the 60th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act, the 5th July, to deliver a keynote speech that outlines some of his proposals that he wants Londoners to consider. These include a £10 Toxicity or 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 made 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. Officers are also drawing up detailed proposals for a diesel scrappage scheme, to put pressure on the government for them to introduce such a scheme nationally and he has starting negotiating on Vehicle Excise Duty. He also called for a new Clean Air Act, fit for the 21st century.
As the Chair of the London Assembly’s Environment Committee and Labour lead on the environment, I really welcome the fact that Sadiq has not let this slip at all, and is pressing ahead on his pledge 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 hotspots and many routes to school involve children travelling along the most polluted roads, we are stunting the lungs of generations to come, so there is no time to waste. 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 much more susceptible to the impact of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
We really need to push ahead as quickly as we can, taking action that will have a real impact on the situation. A new and determined Mayor, who has started by putting out some strong ideas to tackle a major health problem is a refreshing change. There is no doubt we can encourage him to go further – introducing the ULEZ in early 2019 or even in late 2018, or expanding it to completely cover London, coinciding with the Low Emission Zone are potential additional asks. The London Mayor is bound to receive opposition from motorists organisations and businesses – but I for one will be doing my best to make sure that the Mayor delivers on his pledge to clean up London’s dirty air and encouraging him to be bolder and think bigger.
Leonie Cooper AM, Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee.