Gareth Bacon is a member of the London Assembly.
London has an air pollution problem. Whilst emissions of harmful particulates (PM10) and nitrous oxides (NOX) reduced every year under Boris Johnson, more needs to be done to ensure that all Londoners can breathe safe air. However, we need solutions that are effective, reasonable, and actually deliver reduced levels of pollution. This is not what we are getting at the moment from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his plans for an expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).
My new report, A Breath of Fresh Air: A better approach to improving London’s air quality, sets out where Mayor Khan is going wrong, and proposes a series of alternative measures based on tackling hotspots where pollution is actually causing a problem.
When Mayor Sadiq Khan entered office, he inherited from Boris Johnson a comprehensive and well drafted plan for an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Operating within the central London Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ), where pollution levels are most concentrated, it would require all vehicles from 2020 to meet a minimum pollution standard or face a daily charge. It would commit Transport for London (TfL) to make all buses in central London hybrid or electric. It would also phase in zero emission taxis and minicabs across London, starting in 2018.
However, one of the changes Mayor Khan now proposes is to extend the ULEZ boundary to the North and South Circulars for cars, vans and motorcycles. Whilst this may seem superficially attractive, in practice this will provide only a marginal improvement in air quality, compared to the original plans, but at a much greater cost to the public purse and to London’s residents and businesses.
Based on TfL figures, this ULEZ extension would improve air quality by a mere ten per cent, compared to the 51 per cent predicted for a central London ULEZ. This is because, outside of central London, high pollution areas are concentrated in a number of hotspots mainly linked to main highways, whilst large areas remain unaffected. The map below illustrates this, showing the boundaries of central London in red and the North and South Circulars in green.
Meanwhile, the cost of this expansion is likely to be prohibitive. Based on research commissioned by Islington Council, which is in favour of this policy, we estimate the additional setup cost to be £780 million. This is because the expansion would create a brand new boundary, requiring a great deal of new infrastructure, rather than using the central London CCZ boundary that already exists. It would also divert extra congestion – and pollution – to the North and South Circulars themselves as drivers seek to avoid the ULEZ.
The proposals would also be punitive for many more drivers, and especially small businesses, who would have to either change their vehicles or pay a daily charge. The total cost could be as high as £100 million to Londoners in the first year alone.
Whilst Londoners want to see better air quality, and would accept reasonable costs for this, wasting their money on a scheme that would not deliver the goods would be completely counter-productive. In short, Londoners need more bang for their buck.
I have therefore proposed a series of alternative measures to cut pollution in a better, more effective and less punitive way. We should go ahead with Boris’s original ULEZ plans for central London, together with a number of measures targeted at pollution hotspots – an approach I have called ‘ULEZ Plus’.
Chief among these is delivering cleaner buses on London’s most polluted roads. A similar scheme in Oxford Street, started under Boris, cut pollution by a third in just twelve months. Rather than spend £780 million on an expanded ULEZ, we could spend the money on an additional 2,200 hybrid buses (over a quarter of the fleet) and convert 10,000 taxis to low polluting LPG fuel.
In addition, I propose the following: extending Boris’s successful boiler scrappage scheme (which Mayor Khan has replaced with one much less effective); a scheme to consolidate freight traffic; plans for electric vehicle hire; and a diesel scrappage scheme.
The full report is available to view here. I hope you will agree with me on the need to replace the Mayor’s ill-thought-through plans with more effective measures that will be less costly and punitive to Londoners.