The Government’s desperate attempts to prevent their air quality plan being published before the election shows that they have not woken up to the scale of the air quality crisis. By dragging their feet and then filleting the plan of any meaningful proposals, they have put politics ahead of people’s health.
With 10,000 Londoners dying prematurely each year because of air so filthy it is actually illegal, their inaction is literally costing lives. Brixton Road breached the EU annual limits for nitrogen dioxide within the first five days of 2017 and so many pollution hotspots in the city are around schools, exposing our children to dangerously polluted air.
By far the largest source of harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions are diesel cars, which are linked to 23,500 of the 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. It’s therefore really disappointing that the Government has failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme - the single measure that would do most to encourage motorists to move to cleaner vehicles.
Client Earth, the group of environmental lawyers who brought the legal challenge that forced publication of the plan, have rightly criticised the proposal to set up non-charging clean air zones. Without the threat of a fine it's difficult to see how these would persuade motorists to stay out of the area. The Government have passed on responsibility to local authorities to introduce these zones. But at the same time they've also cut the amount of money they have given to councils to improve air quality - the Air Quality Grant has shrunk from £3m to £3500,000 since the Tories came to power in 2010.
Worryingly Andrea Leadsom, the Secretary of State for the Environment, has been silent on whether the UK will continue to maintain current EU air quality standards. Post-Brexit, vital agreements such as the the binding emissions targets agreed by member states in November, could be torn up.
The scale of the crisis demands big solutions. Sadiq Khan has led the way in London with a bold and ambitious plan to expand the Ultra Low Emmission Zone. From 2019 the most polluting vehicles will have to pay a daily charge to enter central London. Sadiq knows this won't make him flavour of the month amongst some diesel car owners but he knows that fiddling around at the edges is not an option as air quality in our city continues to worsen.
Lambeth has been at the forefront of efforts to kick clean air up the political agenda. As well as lobbying the Government, the council has led by example in implementing a number of measures to improve air quality. We have secured one of the first clean bus corridors in London on the highly polluted A23 between Streatham and Brixton. This will reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions by an estimated 84%.
We have also made huge efforts to encourage people out of their vehicles and onto bikes. Two new Quietway routes will soon open, providing over ten miles of safe cycling routes. We’ve introduced a 20mph speed limit across the borough, installed 1,000 bike hangar spaces and trained more cyclists than any other place in London. The number of cycle journeys increased by 68% from 2004-2014.
Finally, we have just published an Air Quality Action Plan which sets out 59 specific actions the council will take to improve local air quality. These include plans for a freight consolidation centre in partnership with three other councils to cut the number of polluting delivery journeys made for council services, local businesses and other organisations.
The plan is set to be agreed by Cabinet next Monday and has been endorsed by Deputy Mayor for the Environment, Shirley Rodrigues, who praised Lambeth's "excellent plan" with its commitment to "a range of ambitious actions to improve air quality."
The Mayor of London and local government have shown what can be done where political will is combined with hard-hitting plans of action. It’s a pity Ministers have not shown the same ambition. Thankfully voters can give their verdict on the Government's record on air quality on 8 June.
Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite, Cabinet Member for Environment and Housing