London Assembly members have called on Boris Johnson to work with government and local boroughs to see how the whole of the capital could tackle current illegal pollution levels by 2020.
The UK Supreme Court has ordered the Government to draw up improved national plans to remedy the situation, which is thought to contribute to the deaths of 3,000 people each year in London alone because of toxic airborne particles, primarily from surface transport.
And the EU has also begun enforcement action, which could ultimately lead to fines of hundreds of millions of euros.
Mayor Johnson has already drawn up a Transport Emissions Road Map, which sets out how London could potentially achieve compliance with the pollution limits by 2025, however the London Assembly’s environment committee has argued this does not go far enough.
In a new report today, it states: ‘The Mayor has already proposed measures that go beyond the UK’s existing air quality plan, and move in the direction of other cities such as Berlin. He has ordered an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London from 2020, and has called on the government to supplement it with measures such as a diesel scrappage scheme and widespread road pricing to replace other motoring taxation such as fuel duty and vehicle excise duty.
‘However, we want to see how compliance can be achieved by 2020. The Mayor says that the government must deliver this acceleration by agreeing to his proposals immediately. We agree that the government should do this, but also call on the Mayor to improve his own plans, including a faster, wider and stronger ULEZ. In this report we set out measures relating to different vehicle types.’
The committee has called for a range of actions including the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) before 2020 on a ‘wider and stronger’ basis and calling on the mayor to set out - following consultation with industry - how zero-emission capable taxis will be available from 2018 and how the necessary infrastructure (rapid charging network and/or hydrogen stations) will be delivered.
It also suggests ‘discussions with boroughs on the costs, benefits and practicalities of a wider ULEZ should be progressed rapidly, and with a view to widening the ULEZ beyond the Congestion Charge Zone as soon as is practically possible, following further public consultation’.
Members also criticised Transport for London (TfL) stating that under the mayor's existing policy by 2020, double-deckers operating in central London should be Euro VI hybrids and that single-decker buses should be zero-emissions.
The committee highlights that: 'TfL does not propose to retrofit its first 300 New Routemaster buses to make them Euro VI compliant, but instead to allow them to operate in the ULEZ without meeting the standards of other diesel vehicles. We are concerned that this undermines the credibility of the ULEZ, and sends out the wrong signal.'
One of the difficulties the UK faces in bringing down pollution levels is the amount of diesel cars on the roads, which even appear to be increasing – 50% of all new cars sold in the UK last year were diesel, compared to only around 30% a decade ago.
Diesel powered vehicles alone are responsible for around 40% of London’s nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, which are linked to breathing difficulties and heart conditions.
These cars have enjoyed tax breaks because the cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide and are more fuel efficient but now face extra charges due to their NOx emissions.
Friends of the Earth said the tax breaks should be scrapped and called for ‘pay-as-you-go’ driving across London to be ‘seriously considered’. It also said proposed road building such as the East London river crossings to be scrapped.
Julian Bell, chair of London Councils’ transport and environment committee, said: 'It is now more apparent than ever that London needs a joined-up air quality strategy, with urgent action taken at all levels of government and business.
'Boroughs themselves are at the forefront of efforts to improve air quality. My own council, Ealing, is one of a number encouraging cycling as part of a wider effort to encourage a shift away from cars, while Croydon, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth have jointly developed a schools programme to raise children’s awareness and help them to protect themselves from harmful particulates. Boroughs urgently need the funding to take further steps to tackle poor air quality.'