Mayor urges government to stop ‘passing the buck’ on killer toxic air

07 November 2016

Sadiq Khan urges Government to get a grip and to stop ‘passing the buck’ on killer toxic air
The Mayor of London today demands that the government deliver:

·         National diesel scrappage scheme to tackle harmful emissions
·         New Clean Air Act to ‘drag’ the law into the 21st century
·         Additional Mayoral powers to get to grips with the toxic health emergency
·         Greater funding for City Hall and London boroughs to help the fight against filthy air

.         Reform of Vehicle Excise Duty

Following the successful ClientEarth High Court ruling in which the Mayor of London, was an 'interested party', Sadiq Khan has called on ministers to ‘get a grip’ and take immediate action on  London’s toxic air.

The ClientEarth ruling last week saw the court finding that the Government had broken the law by failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution. The Mayor now wants to see a package of measures introduced as soon as possible.

Since becoming Mayor in May, Sadiq Khan has already started action to clean up London's air. He has proposed the toughest crackdown on polluting vehicles by any major city in the world.

He is consulting on a bold and wide-ranging package of measures which include a new T-charge (Emissions Surcharge) in the Congestion Charging Zone in 2017 and introducing the Ultra Low Emission Zone a year earlier in 2019 as well as expanding it up to the North/South circular.

Even with the most bold and ambitious plans in a generation from the Mayor, he has made clear that it would not be acceptable for ministers to ignore their responsibilities and simply pass the buck to the Mayor and London boroughs.

The High Court ruling stressed that it is the Government’s duty to meet the rules as quickly as possible. Ministers control some of the most powerful policy tools to tackle air pollution.

Sadiq Khan said: “After years of failure we now need the Government to get a grip and face up to their responsibilities rather than pass the buck to me and boroughs. Let’s be clear, filthy air is causing‎ 9,400 deaths every year in London alone. And that's before you look at all the other health problems caused to Londoners.

“We need action now to protect Londoners and people all across the UK from breathing in toxic fumes. The Government has been seriously complacent about this health emergency for the last six  years and now is the time for them to stop gambling with our health and show real leadership.

“We urgently need a national diesel scrappage scheme and a Clean Air Act fit for the 21st century. We also need real funding prioritised for London – the mediocre funding given to our boroughs is woefully insufficient.

“It is high time the Government took this seriously.”

Barbara Stoll, Senior Air Quality Campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "The Mayor of London has shown great ambition when it comes to dealing with deadly air pollution in the capital but we know that cities alone will not be able to tackle the problem.

“The High Court ruling has made it all the more clear that government’s attitude towards the air pollution health crisis has been woefully inadequate. No. 10 must take immediate steps to get the most polluting diesel cars off our streets and hold car companies to account. It needs to provide an adequate plan and resources to help people make the switch to cleaner alternatives. It is time for the UK Government to decide if they want to give our citizens the right to breathe clean air, or continue spending valuable resources on treating heart and lung diseases that could be prevented”.

Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils Transport and Environment Committee, said: 

“Tackling air quality requires immediate attention. With over 9,400 Londoners dying prematurely each year as a result of air pollution, it’s vital that Government takes urgent action now. They also need to properly equip the Mayor and London boroughs with the funding and resources needed to really make an impact and tackle toxic pollution. All Londoners deserve a healthier future.”

Leah Davis, Acting Director at Green Alliance, said:

“Cleaning up the UK’s air is one of the most significant environmental challenges of our time, and I welcome this call on government to swiftly increase its ambition and action to tackle air pollution.

“The Mayor’s air quality plans represent a promising list of measures to tackle London’s dirty air, and demonstrate what can be achieved with ambitious city-scale environmental leadership. We now need the resources to back up these plans and implement measures in areas worst hit by air pollution, in London and in cities and towns across the country.”

Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation:

“We need further and faster action to improve air quality. Over 9,000 early deaths in London every year are attributable to air pollution. The Mayor has made a good start in tackling the problem in London but we need central government to make this an urgent priority. The government must commit to a new Clean Air Act to restrict the most polluting vehicles and bring emissions down to safe levels.”

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: “Around two thirds of people with asthma say poor air quality makes their symptoms worse, putting them at increased risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack. No-one should feel a prisoner in their own home because the air outside is so toxic it could kill them, which is why I hope the High Court decision acts as an urgent wake-up call to the UK Government to take action. There are 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma who will be watching their next moves closely.”

In a letter today to the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom MP, who was defeated in last week’s case, Sadiq Khan has called for urgent action including:

- A 21st century Clean Air Act: New legislation would provide the overarching framework for action, dragging the law up to date to cope with the massive air quality challenges we face today. This would provide a legally enforceable right to clean air – standards currently enforced by the European Union and the Government should introduce new powers to better regulate all sources of emissions, not just road transport, and give powers to local authorities.

-  National diesel scrappage scheme: Diesel is the biggest and most problematic source of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions. A credible plan will need to accelerate the pace at which diesel vehicles are phased out. A diesel scrappage scheme is essential if  converting to cleaner vehicles is to be made affordable for motorists and businesses. It is only right that the Government provides this help - given that national policy has encouraged the shift to diesel over many years, meaning many people bought polluting vehicles in good faith.

- Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and other fiscal reforms: Before Clean Air Zone (CAZ) measures to tackle diesel emissions are introduced it is essential that national policy is pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately VED continues to make the purchase of diesel cars more attractive.

- Additional powers: London needs additional powers to manage toxic emissions such as pollution from construction sites and river traffic. For example additional powers to implement construction and river low emission zones similar to those used for road vehicles

-  Greater funding for City Hall and boroughs: Government should recognise that London’s air quality challenges are linked to a national problem and provide additional support. This should include a share of Londoners’ VED revenues to fund improvements of nationally strategic roads within the capital to free-up TfL resources to spend on further air quality measures. Additional funding for local authorities should also be made available. The current £3 million which comes from Defra’s air quality grants programme is supposed to support measures across the UK and is woefully insufficient given the scale of the challenge.

- Heathrow: The Government must now accept that a third runway at Heathrow is not compatible with the objective of achieving – and sustaining – legal compliance and reducing exposure to toxic air.

Notes to editors

1, The ClientEarth challenge, in which the Mayor appeared as an interested party, means that the Government's existing plan for improving air quality will be quashed.
The Mayor launched his plan to clean up London’s filthy air in July and the initial consultation attracted a record 15,000 responses. This package of measures is now out for consultation again. Proposals include:
-Introducing the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2019, a year ahead of schedule and extending it up to the North and South Circular in 2019 or later.

- Introducing an Emissions Surcharge (“T-charge”) for older polluting vehicles entering the Congestion Charge zone in October 2017. This charge would be in addition to the Congestion Charge and would apply to vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4/IV emissions standard for NOx and PM emissions. Pre-Euro 4 vehicles are generally those registered up to and including 2005. The charge, costing £10 per day for non-compliant vehicles, would operate at the same times as the Congestion Charge


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