Sadiq Khan, the new Labour Mayor of London, 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:
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 and has starting negotiating on Vehicle Excise Duty. He also called for a new Clean Air Act, fit for the 21st century – a major campaign.
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 – 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.
While it is fair to say that 15 years ago, when less was known about the negative health consequence of diesel, that the then Labour government made buying diesel vehicles more attractive by changes to vehicle duties, since 2012 when the World Health Organisation defined diesel as “definitely carcinogenic” nothing has been done. It is therefore a pity that more hasn’t been done over the past eight years in London.
Client Earth, the environmental lawyers, also thought the Government’s approach was poor – and took the Government to Court and won, due to the fact that the national air quality improvement plan was woefully inadequate. Client Earth are going back to Court again in October 2016 to get the government’s revised plan reviewed – and the Mayor has joined their action, as it still is inadequate. The last Mayor allowed a further 170,000 diesel vehicles to come onto London’s roads since 2012 alone, just adding to London’s dirty air. We need to stay on the case to ensure that this is changed.
Leonie Cooper - Labour London Assembly for Merton & Wandsworth, and Chair of the Environment Committee.