Central London consensus on improving air quality

MQT on 2012-09-19
Session date: 
September 19, 2012
Question By: 
Murad Qureshi
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


When will you sign up to the consensus on improving poor air quality in Central London as three major boroughs have signed up to do?


Answer for Central London consensus on improving air quality

Answer for Central London consensus on improving air quality

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am very happy to work with the boroughs concerned, to continue to clean up London's air but, unfortunately, I am not willing to agree to a programme that I think would do great damage to the interests of London's taxi drivers in requiring them to get rid of any vehicle more than ten years old. Already, very heroically, TfL has decided to launch the first ever age limit for taxis. That was done in the teeth of ferocious opposition from the taxi drivers. We have done that. I think now to tell them they have to scrap any vehicle more than ten years old would be simply brutal. I don't know whether that is your policy, but it is not one that I am going to support.

We are going to do various other things to improve air quality in London. I think Jenny (Jones) has a question later on about some of the emissions standards that we may be applying.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Many thanks, Mr Mayor for your response. Just to elaborate, the letter to the councils involved Camden Council, the City of Westminster and City of London Corporation, representing 500,000 residents of Central London as well as business, so I think they represent an interest of a major constituency of yours apart from the black cabbies that you have got a particular interest with.

They have asked for a number of things to be done across the buses, taxis, as well as the future of the London Enterprise Zone (LEZ). Can I just ask you a few specific questions, firstly in those --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Silly questions?

Murad Qureshi (AM): Specific.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Specific, sorry.

Murad Qureshi (AM): You obviously need to get your hearing tested. Specific. In the joint letter from Camden, Westminster and the City of London, they called for a better deployment of retro fitted buses across Central London. In light of that, can you tell us - after four years of office - what proportion of London buses have you retrofitted, so far?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What I can tell you is that we have just put in an order for 600 of the cleanest and greenest bus in the whole world, which will be on the streets in the next four years. I cannot give you the answer about how many we have retrofitted, but we are moving towards an ever cleaner bus fleet. What I can tell you is, contrary to the absolute codswallop that was put around during the election campaign, which everybody has now forgotten about, London does not have the worst air quality in Europe. Complete fabrication by the Labour Party. Actually, it turns out, once one bothered to do the research, that Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Athens all have worse air quality, and plenty of other cities in Britain have comparable problems. I am delighted to say, that Manchester University - people were saying that we were going to have pollution during the Olympic Games - has just done a study, the Clear Flow Unit I think it is called, that concludes that we have just delivered one of the cleanest Olympic and Paralympic Games in history. The least polluted air of any Olympic Games in history.

Murad Qureshi (AM): I didn't ask those questions at all, actually. I asked you specifically

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I know, but I thought you had better get the answers.

Murad Qureshi (AM): -- how many buses you retrofitted. Can I answer your question for you, if you do not know clearly?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What I will do, Murad, I will get you the answer about the number of business we have retrofitted.

Murad Qureshi (AM): I can tell you now, 10% of the total buses.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That sounds very good. We will do more.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Given two years ago in your air quality strategy you promised to retrofit in London half the buses, can you tell us what has gone wrong?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As I say, we are moving towards the cleanest, greenest bus in the whole of Europe.

Jenny Jones (AM): And the most expensive.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What did you say?

Jenny Jones (AM): And most expensive.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Wrong. Wrong. On the contrary, it is a fantastic deal that London has done with the contractors. Fantastic value for money and it is the cleanest, greenest bus in the world.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Mr Mayor, whatever rhetoric that you put out the issue is your record. Can you just move to --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): My record?

Murad Qureshi (AM): I have just given you figures and you have not disputed them.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, but the fact is that air quality in London has actually been improving. Last time I pointed this out I was told this was all because of the recession. Actually, it is because of a series of measures that we have put in to improve the vehicular emissions in London. We had the first ever taxi age limit. Ken Livingstone [former Mayor of London] , in all his tyrannical madness, never dared to impose an age limit on taxis. It was never supported by the Labour group. We put it in. We have encouraged much more cycling, much more walking and many more electric vehicle taxis (EV) and that is how we are improving air quality, as well as a host of other measures.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Mr Mayor, another proposal that the councils put together jointly to you was the suggestion of a taxi scrappage scheme. Are you not signed up to that, at least, their taxi proposals in their joint letter to you?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I have not studied the taxi scrappage scheme, Murad. Forgive me, I will look at it and see what we can do.

Murad Qureshi (AM): That is beyond the limits of their power and that is why they have come to you. I think this actually sets the agenda for your second term.

Another suggestion they make is on the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), a phase five. Is that something you are prepared to sign up to?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am going to look at 'LEZ Mis'. I will look at it and see what more we need to do. We will assess what impact a LEZ phase five would have, but at the moment we are achieving improvements in London's air quality by technological innovation and by stringent rules about London's bus fleet and London's taxi fleet. By the way, you mention the taxi scrappage scheme. As you know - and this was a policy that I don't think enough of may know - by 2020 we want to have all new taxis in London to be zero tailpipe emission. That means that we are moving towards EV taxis and it will be a transformation of the taxi fleet in this city.

Murad Qureshi (AM): The concerns of the particular councils in the future are going to be black carbon and smaller PM10s (scientific term for miniscule particles), so I hope that has registered with you and it is something that you can at least sign up to with the councils.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. On PM10s there has been a distortion because people are moving to diesel, and diesel produces much more PM10s and we need to think about the implications of this.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Finally, if you look at your manifesto you did not make any new major commitments on improving air quality. In light of that, shouldn't you be more readily accepting of some of these suggestions made by the Central London councils across the spectrum, given that you know, and we know, that there are 4,000-odd premature deaths annually in London?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, of course, we will continue to improve air quality and I am proud of what we have achieved so far. I think it will be a nice thing if the Labour group withdrew the assertion that they made during the election campaign, that London has the worst air quality in Europe. They swallowed their words. They ran up the white flag and they accepted that actually there have been improvements in air quality. If I reproach myself for one thing during that campaign it was we were very flat footed in knocking this stuff back, and you went on for ages about air quality without us being able to prove you wrong.

Murad Qureshi (AM): Can I just remind you, Mr Mayor, you have a second term here. At the outset of the term you have been approached by a cross party alliance of local authorities on proposals to tackle poor air quality in central London, a major hotspot, and you are not responding to them positively enough. I think they are doing your work for you.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): They have got some interesting ideas, as I say. I do not know whether this is really the position you would support. I think in tough economic times it would be draconian and unfair to tell sole trader taxi drivers that any vehicle over ten years must now be scrapped. I do not think that would be a just way. That is my understanding of what they are saying.

Darren Johnson (Chair): Thank you. We will move on to the next question on the order paper which is about the extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Bromley. It was in James Cleverly's name but, Assembly Member Bacon is going to pursue the question.