New mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the government to give him control over excise duties, to enable more spending to improve London’s air quality.
The mayor has committed to improve air quality, which in key areas of the capital is failing to meet legal requirements for levels of nitrogen dioxide. Figures from the British Lung Foundation suggest Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Newham are worst placed, with residents up to twice as likely to die from lung cancer and other lung diseases, compared with boroughs to the west and north. Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster and Barnet are noted as having markedly lower pollution levels. It is reckoned up to 10,000 Londoners die every year due to polluted air.
Khan has also lent his support to law group ClientEarth, which is pursuing a judicial review of the government’s plans to tackle air quality, which the group has called “woefully inadequate”. The pressure group has been working to have the government’s plans struck off, and replaced with a more robust set of procedures that would reduce pollution faster.
On vehicle excise duty, ClientEarth said: “If VED was devolved, it would be possible to restructure the way it is levied so as to tackle air quality by incentivising cleaner vehicles and investing VED revenue into air quality measures.”
Khan has said he will consult on extending the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone to include the North and South Circular roads, maybe introducing it earlier than a planned 2020 date. He wants to levy an extra charge on the most polluting vehicles, from next year; and he has also suggested that Transport for London could look into the possibility of a diesel scrappage scheme.
Speaking about the British Lung Foundation research, Khan noted: “This deeply concerning report shines a light on the huge health inequalities in London as well as how poor air quality is a ticking time-bomb for our health, particularly for Londoners in the most deprived parts of the city.
“I am determined to get to grips with health inequalities in harder-to-reach groups and in London’s most vulnerable communities – something the previous Mayor dismally failed to do. One of the best ways to do this is to tackle London’s dangerously polluted air and make sure that breathing clean air is a right, not a privilege.”
LPA Perspective: With more commuters cycling than ever, the pollution issue is growing in importance. The recent report on traffic levels noted that it is construction traffic, and smaller delivery vans – all diesel engined – that are the types of vehicle traffic that has seen the most siginficant increases in volume.
There are some things that the wider car industry is doing to help. Many more manufacturers are making their cars with automatic engine cut-out systems, which work when vehicles are at a standstill. And more are following Toyota’s lead, creating cars with some form of electric hybrid that operates the vehicle pollution-free in traffic.
There are also promises of a part-electric powered delivery van, which could be mass produced in the UK next year. Add all these items together, and motor vehicle pollution should continue to drift downward. Numbers of fully electric vehicles continue to grow, too.
Other initiatives are also under way to help improve the capability of electric vehicle charging around the capital’s streets.
And there are plenty of elephants in this particular room. Black taxis will continue to belch diesel fumes for years to come. Even though new ones will need to be capable of running on a battery from 2018, older vehicles will be able to continue running until they are decommissioned. The cab lobby always pleads poverty when it comes to changing their vehicles, but pressure needs to be applied. With cities such as Madrid and Amsterdam now promoting fleets of entirely electric taxis, London is falling behind. And while there are an increasing number of hybrid buses in London, still too many traditional diesel engined buses are being bought.
Providing the mayor with fiscal capabilities to incentivise the shift to electric would clearly help him, in his mission to clear the capital’s air.