Review of Local Air Quality Management in England

MQT on 2013-09-11
Session date: 
September 11, 2013
Question By: 
Stephen Knight
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Will you oppose the Government's proposal to reduce the level of local air quality monitoring and reporting in England?


Answer for Review of Local Air Quality Management in England

Answer for Review of Local Air Quality Management in England

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. Stephen, I think this is actually a very good and important question and there is a discussion going on now, as you know, under the red tape bonfire or whatever plan there is now, which obviously I generally support. There is a proposal that there should be less monitoring by boroughs of local air quality. That is plainly not what we want and need now and we are making, as you would expect, representations to that effect.

Stephen Knight (AM): Thank you, Mr Mayor. I am very pleased to hear that you are making representations and I hope that you will publish the representations that you make. The Environment Committee of the Assembly has also made representations.

I wonder if we might go a little bit further than that, given the importance of ensuring that we do monitor air quality effectively in London and whether you would commit to leading a delegation to go and see the Minister to make the point that actually London needs to maintain its monitoring of air pollution and not see it reduced. Would you be happy to lead a delegation?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Stephen, I am sure you are more than capable of attracting colossal publicity yourself and I do not see any particular need to interfere. What I will do is keep you abreast of where we are in the conversation because, as far as I understand it at the moment, the Department [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] is sympathetic to what we are saying, they are interested in what we are saying and they do see that, as Jenny has just been saying, London has a particular problem with air quality and we have to sort it out. You cannot sort it out if you do not monitor it.

Stephen Knight (AM): Indeed. If I can just give you one example of where the importance of maintaining a local air quality monitoring network is important, earlier this summer we had various smog episodes where the national Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) system did not pick them up but the local monitoring stations did pick them up. For instance, on 16 July at the Barnes Wetlands Centre, there were ground-level ozone episodes which reached dangerous levels at which the Government was obliged to issue alerts and failed to do so because its own monitoring stations did not pick it up.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I was not aware of that. OK.

Stephen Knight (AM): We know in London, Mr Mayor, that hundreds of people are hospitalised by smog episodes and they are very important. Clearly, one of the key ways that we are going to tackle air pollution and one of your key policies is around the ultra-low emissions zone. You mentioned earlier that we had had some discussion at the previous Mayor's Question Time in July and indeed at the Plenary Session we had in July about your proposals for the ultra-low emission zone.

I was very concerned that you had initially in your Vision said that it would apply to all vehicles from 2020 and you told me repeatedly in July that it would only apply to new vehicles. I have here the quote: 'The restrictions will only apply to vehicles registered from 2020 onwards'. However, Mr Mayor, I have a letter in front of me this morning signed by you which says: 'The starting position for TfL's work is that the ultra-low emissions zone will affect all vehicles entering central London', so not just new vehicles. Could you please, the third time for asking

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. To be fair, Stephen, I think I did just give the answer to Jenny and it is very simple. Obviously, the regulation will apply to the whole of central London but, insofar as vehicles are being purchased in good faith which do not comply a long time before that, in round it would be unreasonable to tell people now that they cannot buy a new car which is obviously not going to comply with a zero tailpipe emission regime in seven years' time. So what we are saying is

Stephen Knight (AM): That is why it is important to make clear now what the regime in seven years' time is going to be, Mr Mayor.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): This is really a message for the market and for manufacturers and they are responding. Look at what Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) said the other day, an incredible change of heart there. JLR is a brilliant company, an amazing company, but they have not hitherto been very supportive of zero tailpipe emission vehicles and they are now being

Stephen Knight (AM): But, Mr Mayor, all of this goes to show that clarity is essential because the market has to know what is going to be expected of it in 2020 and instead we have no clarity at all.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you. Exactly right and I am just tentatively, humbly trying to explain to you that the market is already responding to the very clear message that we have sent out, which is that come 2020 what we want to see in London is a zero tailpipe emission environment and new vehicles will have to comply. I think that is a very powerful market signal. This will not be popular, but there is fantastic British technology being developed that will allow car firms to comply and it will do a great deal to reduce NOx and particulates and improve the air of our city. That is what I want to see as much as you, possibly more.

Stephen Knight (AM): Thank you. Given all of our concern about smog and air pollution in London, I wonder if you will reconsider the request that I have made in the past to issue yourself, via the Greater London Authority (GLA) or even the TfL website, smog alerts at times of high pollution episodes in London, especially given the Government's sometimes failure to do that.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I was not aware that the contingency or whatever you said about the monitoring station at Barnes was as bad as that. I will look at that. Generally speaking, I think what we are doing is the right way forward. We believe in steadily reducing the emissions of all kinds and

Stephen Knight (AM): And issue warnings, Mr Mayor?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): if you look at the last five years and the reduction of PM10s and particulate matter concentrations less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5s), which are the nastiest bits of dust and particulate matter, we have reduced them by, as I say, 15% and NOx by 20%. Those are very considerable reductions.

Stephen Knight (AM): Mr Mayor, fine, because my question was really about issuing warnings. You have a target of there being 250,000 Londoners signed up to the airText system. The last time we saw figures it was around 10,000 people. What are you going to do to get information out to people about the state of air pollution in London, particularly when we have bad pollution episodes? You are clearly not getting to the people that you wish to get to and that we all wish to get to.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is an interesting and important point because the airText system is valuable. Stephen, I will reflect on that. If I may, I will come back to you with an assessment of how we think the airText system is working in alerting Londoners to poor air quality days and whether there is more we can do.