Mayor says it will be very difficult for London to meet air standards and launches his own strategy

Transport curbing pledges form a central platform in The Mayor’s Draft Air Quality Strategy, for which Ken Livingstone wants as many public opinions as possible. However the Mayor recognises that “meeting the objectives in London will be very difficult”.

Despite London already being granted lower air pollution cuts than the rest of the UK this week (see earlier story), the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, believes that even reduced targets will be very difficult to meet “due to the poor air quality from which London starts, along with the sheer size of the population and traffic volumes”, and has therefore released the Mayor’s draft Air Quality Strategy. The Strategy prioritises reducing emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), more than half of which come from road traffic, and fine particles (PM10), two thirds of which come from the roadside, for which national air quality objectives will not be met on the basis of ‘business as usual policies’. In the case of nitrogen dioxide it is estimated that some areas will not achieve the annual average national objective even by 2010, when current standards require it to be met by 2005.

The Mayor is inviting members of the public, as well as businesses and local councils, to take part in the three-month consultation, the first ever on London’s air quality. The document is seeking opinions on numerous proposals, many of them involving punitive measures for private vehicles , as well as more general questions on the perception of pollution in London and respondents’ willingness to alter their lifestyles to be more environmentally-friendly.

The Strategy, through a combination of major increases in public transport capacity and measures to tackle traffic congestion, aims to reduce traffic by 15% in central London, limit traffic growth to zero in inner London and reduce predicted growth in outer London by a third. Although this will make a “valuable contribution towards reducing vehicle emissions”, is not enough on its own to improve air quality to the point where the national air quality objectives will be met, the Strategy says. Therefore certain measures have been proposed to produce cleaner emissions from vehicles which the document says “will make the most impact on improving London’s air quality”. These include:

  • a major programme to clean London’s bus fleet – fitting 800 buses a year with new technology to reduce exhaust emissions;
  • an on-going programme of replacing older, more polluting buses with more than 1,000 cleaner, modern buses, with all 6,400 London buses to be Euro II standard or better by 2005;
  • working with the taxi trade, TransportAction and Central London Partnership to clean up London’s black cabs;
  • collaborating with Government and London boroughs on a feasibility study into a possible Low Emission Zone in London, an area where vehicles that do not meet a set emission standard are refused entry;
  • promoting grants towards the cost of buying alternatively fuelled vehicles and the award of a Mayoral Environmental Business Marque for firms demonstrating good environmental practice, such as uptake of alternative fuels; and
  • exempting electrically powered and alternatively fuelled vehicles from the congestion charge for central London, one of the punitive measures contained in London’s draft transport strategy (see related story), which also contains many of the Strategy’s emission-cutting proposals.

The document says that the Mayor aims to promote the uptake of cleaner fuels by advertising government grants, ‘Powershift’ and ‘CleanUp’, available for purchasing alternatively-fuelled vehicles or converting existing vehicles to run on alternative fuel, and by getting London boroughs to encourage alternative fuelling facilities through the planning system. On the punitive side, the Mayor will urge London boroughs to make full use of their forthcoming ability to undertake roadside emission testing and issue penalty notices to vehicles that fail, as well as encouraging them to plan events where vehicle owners can have their vehicles tested, and where limited remedial vehicle servicing will be offered.

The Mayor also announced that he is currently working on an Energy Strategy that will include a number of proposals to reduce energy consumption in London, such as property

developers minimising energy use and maximising available renewable energy sources in new buildings.

“The smogs of the 1950s and 1960s might be a thing of the past, but people still associate London with poor quality air,” Livingstone commented. “Unfortunately they are right to do so – London suffers the worst air pollution of any city in the UK. Today I am delighted to publish the draft of London’s first ever air quality strategy. I hope as many people as possible will take the opportunity to take part in the consultation and contribute to the development of this strategy.”

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