No blank cheque to fight London air pollution
Efforts to clean London's air should be welcomed, but should not be embraced before setting a reasonable price tag.This was the view of the London Assembly's environment committee when it met this week to discuss its response to the mayor's proposals for a Low Emission Zone (LEZ).
The LEZ would restrict the movement of buses, coaches and lorries that did not meet pollution standards, focusing on particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions.
Those that do not meet the targets will be charged a hefty fee to use the city streets.
Unlike the famed Congestion Charge the LEZ would cover the whole of greater London, not just the city centre.
Private cars and other small vehicles will initially be exempt from the charge.
In their response to the mayor's proposals, the assembly's environment committee said it recognised air quality in the capital was a cause for concern.
"London's air quality is widely accepted to be the worst in the UK and among some of the worst in Europe," said the committee's response.
"The committee is conscious that action must be taken to protect and improve the health and quality of life for people living and working in London and recognises the challenges facing the mayor.
"The committee therefore supports action...but would wish to ensure that it is carefully planned, practicable and sustainable."
The committee had concerns about the response, however, and stressed the need to ensure funding of the initiative should be settled from the outset, rather than determined on the hoof.
Roger Evans: "We can't be giving the Mayor a blank cheque," said committee member Roger Evans (Con).
"All groups on the assembly have had some concerns about the figures.
"To say [they] have varied considerably throughout this process is possibly to understate the situation we have here."
He also said there was a need to have the boroughs on board if the scheme was to work properly.
"If we don't have the co-operation of the boroughs it's going to be harder to implement," he said.
"The mayor has a habit of riding roughshod over the local governments and that is not acceptable in this case, or in any other case."
Peter Hulme Cross of the Eurosceptic One London group also wanted the influence of Brussels to be made clear in the strategy, saying the bulk of the UK's environmental legislation came from the EU.
Darren Johnson (Green), chairman of the committee, agreed to add a factual statement on the role of the EU in driving this and similar schemes forward, but said the LEZ was not a European project per se.
"The EU has set targets for air quality but does not specify how they are to be met," he said.
"The LEZ itself is not a not an EU initiative, it's merely a tool and it's up to London to choose the appropriate tool."
Mike Tuffrey (Lib Dem) said all parties recognised the need to address the situation.
"There is a major problem in London with air pollution," he said.
"We have to do something and this is along the right lines."
Mr Evans added: "This is something we'd be doing anyway, regardless of EU legislation."
Mr Tuffrey also asked that direct reference be made to public transport and urge Transport for London to continue its replacement of dirty technology with cleaner engines, whether through retro-fitting or introduction of non-fossil fuel vehicles.
The committee agreed to the draft response in principle, but asked for clear references for statements made in the document, tightening up of costs and enforcement and a clarification of the role of the EU as a driver for the planned introduction of the zone.
They also agreed to include their desire to see the greening of London's public transport.
Public consultation on the LEZ runs until April 24, 2006 and more information on the proposals can be found on the Transport for London website.
by Sam Bond
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