Air Pollution

MQT on 2014-11-19
Session date: 
November 19, 2014
Question By: 
Murad Qureshi
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Who should Londoners trust on the true extent of air pollution in London, your office or the King's College Environmental Research Group?

Supplementary Questions: 


Answer for Air Pollution

Answer for Air Pollution

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, thank you.  Obviously great confidence has to be placed in the King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group.  We have a very close working relationship with them.  They work with the boroughs and with the London Air Quality Monitoring Network.  We depend on their analysis, which shows amongst other things that omissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) has fallen by 20% and particles less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10s) by 15%.  The latest analysis actually shows that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have fallen by 12% since 2008.


Where we are entitled to be cautious is in the spin that is put on their findings by - I am sure - perfectly well-meaning journalists who slightly soup it up and make statements that cannot really be justified, saying that London has the worst air quality in the world or that Oxford Street is the most polluted place on the planet.  These things simply are not true and it is important to correct those.


Murad Qureshi AM:  OK, thank you very much, Mr Mayor.  Can I just inform you that this morning the UK Supreme Court has made a requirement of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to produce a meaningful air quality plan to ensure that the exceedance period for nitrogen dioxide limited values beyond 2010 is as short as possible?  Producing a plan is not enough in itself.  Do you welcome that? 


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do.  You know - and, Murad, you have worked on this for years - that the issue for us in London is we feel that often we are in the lead.  We care about it and we are doing all sorts of stuff and taking huge amounts of flak from drivers to make vehicles cleaner, putting in the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and all the sorts of things we are doing, but the Government we do not think is funding this enough.  There is a £500 million Office of Low Emission Vehicles fund.  We could spend it far better than any other place in Britain and the lion’s share of that money should come to us.


Murad Qureshi AM:  OK, with this ClientEarth of victory, I am sure Defra will be knocking on your door very soon.  The case is that we have to move beyond the plan and before you move beyond a plan you have to accept scientific advice.  I did hear you say earlier that you cannot dissent against best scientific advice on climate change and air quality.  I hope you will re-emphasise that and also offer an apology to King’s College because there is no doubt they felt threatened by the letter for whatever reason.  We do need them on board still because - let us face it - there are not many scientists amongst the political classes.  I just think this is an opportunity for you, given that you said over the weekend that you accept the scientific advice and also this morning, to offer them an apology and draw a line under the whole episode.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate if I could just offer my renewed support for the scientific work that King’s College does.  What I object to is ill-informed headlines in newspapers based fallaciously on those reports which say things like, “Welcome to London, the most toxic place on the planet”.  That I think is palpable nonsense.  In London, if you look at overall air quality and if you look at NO2 we are better than Stuttgart, Paris, Munich, Rome, Milan and Mexico City where levels are nearly double that of London.  Hong Kong, Istanbul, Beijing and Shanghai all have higher readings.  London comes at about, as far as I can remember, fifteenth on the city-wide index and seventeenth on the traffic-focused index.  There are plenty of other cities that have far worse air quality than London.  It is just not true.  All I am objecting to is the way that this stuff is spun.  Then perhaps what would be nice would be sometimes when the academics see that their words are being misrepresented, they then could themselves point out that actually things are not quite as the newspapers would have it.


Murad Qureshi AM:  Yes.  Mr Mayor, there is no need to get defensive on this because last week we did ask Frank Ellis [Branch Chief, United States Environmental Protection Agency] here and he confirmed your interpretation that it has been a misrepresentation by the media of what was said.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I was not being defensive, I was just stating the facts.


Murad Qureshi AM:  Can I just move on to another issue that has come up, which is dealing with the diesel pollution which the Environment Committee is presently dealing with?  The removal of the diesel particulate filters by lorry drivers, suburban utility vehicles (SUV) drivers and what-have-you is critical.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Absolutely.


Murad Qureshi AM:  We can talk about the future and what-have-you.  There are immediate things that can be done.  I am going to be writing to the Police Commissioner about this, I just hope you will join me in emphasising the importance of making this a criminal offence.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, I absolutely agree.


Murad Qureshi AM:  This is happening with the present diesel car stop at the moment, whether they be lorries or whether they be SUVs or family cars.  There seems to be a lot of garages offering this service.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Are you sure?  They are doing this all to get more miles to the gallon?


Murad Qureshi AM:  Whatever the reasons, but actually the Department of Transport is saying this weekend that modifying vehicles is actually acting illegally and they could face prosecution.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is not just illegal; it is immoral.


Murad Qureshi AM:  It is immoral, indeed.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  What they are doing actually is they are wilfully disabling the devices in their machines that can reduce the amount of pollution.  It is completely wrong for them to do that.  Murad, you are bringing something to me that I was not aware of.  I will look at it.


Murad Qureshi AM:  That is why I have brought it up here because I did not think you had.  Du Pont also admits there is a loophole over its own regulations because companies can carry out such alterations without breaking the law.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We should close that loop.


Murad Qureshi AM:  Exactly.  The whole thing is that the Police Commissioner, given he is quite keen on car crime anyway, could get the message out that this is not morally right and this is actually a public health issue as much as a legality issue as well.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Absolutely.  I am very interested by that.


Murad Qureshi AM:  I will write the letter and you can sign it with me.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am not promising to sign any letter with you but I will have a look at the letter.  I certainly agree with the thrust of what you say.


Murad Qureshi AM:  That is an immediate thing you can do and that is the kind of action we need on top of the legal action we have had this morning against Defra.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  OK.


Murad Qureshi AM:  Thank you.