Green Party targets zero-emission vehicles to tackle London’s air quality crisis

"Half-hearted" efforts to tackle air pollution in London would be replaced with a fully-integrated, zero-emission fleet of public transport vehicles and elevated congestion charges if the Green Party's Mayoral candidate Sian Berry is able to realise her capital-wide vision.

In a new statement on the Green Party website, Berry highlighted the actions she would take if elected the next Mayor of London in June. She said she would offer both immediate impact initiatives and long-term future-proofing to ensure that the capital complies with air pollution laws for 2020 and beyond.

“Sixty years after the Clean Air Act helped put an end to the deadly smogs that came from coal fires and power stations, we are now faced with a comparable problem,” Berry said. “The time for half-hearted efforts to clean up our polluted air and ensure compliance with existing laws is past.

“If I’m elected Mayor, I will immediately exclude the most polluting cars, vans and lorries from central London, and speed up the switchover to make all new buses and taxis zero-emission. I will cancel road-building plans and oppose all airport expansion.

“In the longer term we need an effective new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to keep polluting diesel vehicles out of London, along with fair charges on motoring to reduce traffic levels. That’s the only way we can bring pollution down to levels that we can genuinely describe as ‘quality air’.”

If elected, Berry said she would immediately move to tighten up standards for London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone by exercising a ban on idling for parked vehicles and introducing higher congestion charges for any vehicles not operating on alternate fuels.

A programme to replace diesel buses with hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) would be introduced by 2020 at the latest, while scrappage grants for cab drivers will be extended to all diesel vehicles. Emergency traffic reduction measures and legal procedures against car makers cheating on emissions tests will also be carried out, Berry said.

Berry’s longer-term planning consists of a new scheme to replace ULEZ – covering all of London – combined with a traffic management scheme. An emphasis on car-free housing will also be explored. She would move to oppose all road and airport expansions in London and the South East, with new planning applications having to go through rigorous air quality requirements. A new bus network would also be explored, while 25,000 extra EV charging points would be introduced.

Other Mayoral candidates – Zac Goldsmith (Conservative); Sadiq Khan (Labour); Peter Whittle (UKIP); and Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) – have been urged to deliver a sustainable capital, with air pollution ranking alongside solar investment as one of the main concepts that needs dedicated time and investment. Goldsmith and Khan have both also vowed to tackle air pollution.

Loud and proud

With air quality responsible for around 9,500 deaths in the capital each year, and Defra facing legal actions over its ‘woeful’ air pollution policies, Berry’s potential commitment comes at a vital time. But with a potential British exit from the European Union looming, many green experts have raised concerns over what this would mean for the UK’s sustainable future.

The general consensus would suggest that the EU has been beneficial for Britain, mainly due to its environmental policies – although this hasn’t stopped London from breaching annual EU pollution limits within the first week of 2016.

In order for the Green Party and Berry to implement the changes in the capital, the Party’s MP Caroline Lucas has promised to be “loud and proud” about backing Britain’s EU membership.

“We won’t sit idly by when our environmental protections and our rights at work are threatened by Brexit. Our campaign for British membership of the EU will be loud and it will be proud,” Lucas said. “The EU helps us look after our environment. It’s only by working with our European neighbours that we can tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution. Thanks to EU rules, our beaches are cleaner and our dirtiest power stations are being shut down.”

Matt Mace

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