Sadiq Khan: Government shouldn’t treat air quality measures as ‘green crap’

Sadiq Khan has urged the new Government not to "water down" commitments to air quality proposals post-Brexit, in the same week that the London Mayor created an £11m fund to set up five Low Emission Neighbourhoods across the capital.

Speaking at London Mayor’s Question Time yesterday (July 20), Khan also expressed his disappointment over the abolished DECC department and pledged to write to the Prime Minister urging the Government to sign the Paris Agreement as soon as possible.

On London’s air pollution crisis, Khan cited the UK’s failure to comply with the European Union (EU) Air Quality Directive as a central motive for reducing toxic air pollution levels in the capital and across the rest of the country, stating the importance of ensuring green issues remain a chief consideration during negotiations to leave the EU.

“What we don’t want to see a watering down of commitments to protecting the environment post-Brexit,” Khan said. “The outcome presents an opportunity for us to improve the air quality for Londoners to ensure that the next generation don’t have smaller lungs and ensure that their life expectancy increases. It’s also an opportunity for low-carbon, solar and job creation.

“I hope that the new Chancellor [Philip Hammond] doesn’t see this as “green crap” and I hope the new Prime Minister understands the importance of addressing this issue.”

‘Early test’

Later in his Question Time session, Khan was questioned on the Government’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson Leonie Cooper. In response, Khan promised that he would call upon Prime Minister Theresa May to ratify the historic deal agreed at COP21 last December.

Later commenting on Khan’s pledge, Cooper said: “I welcome today’s commitment from the Mayor which will add weight to our long-standing argument that government needs to do more to reduce emissions.

“Britain must play its part in tackling climate change and it’s incumbent on the government to act sooner rather than later to do this. Our impending withdrawal from the EU cannot be used as an excuse by government to dodge our responsibilities to the rest of the world.

“This is an early test for the new government; this is ‎an urgent issue of global importance and they should sign on the dotted line now.”

Low Emission Neighbourhoods

Khan’s seemingly proactive approach to the environment arrives in the same week that the Mayor pledged to help some of London’s most polluted boroughs by implementing stringent proposals to tackle toxic air quality hotspots with an £11m fund.

The new Low Emission Neighbourhoods will be introduced across eight boroughs, with pollution reducing measures including strict new penalties for the most polluting vehicles, car-free days, green taxi ranks for zero emission-capable cabs and parking reserved for the cleanest vehicles.

The initiative will take place in the boroughs of Westminster, Greenwich, City of London, Redbridge and Newham and Newham, Islington and Tower Hamlets and will come into full effect by the start of 2019.

“Make no mistake: London is in the midst of an air quality crisis,” Khan said. “Air pollution is permanently affecting children’s lung development and nearly 10,000 Londoners are dying early every year due to the long-term exposure of London’s dirty air. 

“We need urgent and bold action and this includes targeted local initiatives to tackle some of the worst pollution hotspots in London. 

“The action we are taking in the capital is vital, but it’s imperative that our ambition is matched by Ministers.  That’s why I’m also calling on Government Ministers to put in place incentives for people to switch to low-emission vehicles, as well as providing London with additional powers and funding to help tackle this public health crisis.”

Air quality action plan

Khan’s funding for Low Emission Neighbourhoods is a significant increase on the previous Mayor’s £2m investment across two London boroughs. This is the latest initiative in the Mayor’s fight against London’s air pollution, which has seen strong progress in the two months since his election.

Earlier this week, Khan supported new air pollution research from Greenpeace which showed that clean air will be a reality only if diesel vehicles are phased out altogether. That report made the case for a scrappage scheme for older diesel cars across the UK, one of a number of measures which formed part of Khan’s recent wide-ranging action plan to tackle toxic air in the capital. 

Meanwhile, Khan recently unveiled plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street, meaning that all traffic including buses and taxis will be banned from the shopping street by 2020.

In just his first week in office, the London Mayor revealed he would be directly involved in renewed action with environmental law firm ClientEarth during its ongoing legal battle with the Government.

George Ogleby

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