Huffington Post: 4,000 premature deaths a year from long-term exposure to air pollution are 4,000 too many.
How many times have you seen a tourist to London wearing a mask thinking 'that's odd'? Air pollution in London is not just a psychological thing, we are a powerhouse with some housekeeping to do. Summer is here and it's more than ever noticeable that the air is a little thicker. sometimes you can see the yellow-green-grey haze hovering over our city. But mostly, it's killer cocktail of largely invisible fumes.
In 1952 the clean air act banned emissions of black smoke in London after a terrible smog. The difference then was that the smog was visible - but that's the only difference. That smog was responsible for 4000 premature deaths - exactly the same number who are once again dying because of toxic air. And banning black smoke - effectively banning the burning of hard fuels in London meant that many people would go cold that winter. Today, cleaning up our air would just mean us taking a hit on whether we can drive dirty-engines in our city. The big question is, which mayor would be brave enough to do it?
A Sustainable Model & Business
London needs a Mayor that can build upon the aspirations of the current administration that set up the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy. Governing a City that is a beacon of finance, freedom, innovation, entrepreneurialism and culture whilst ensuring we don't choke in the externalities of our economic success is a fine line to tread. We as a City should not embrace success at the cost of its citizens - that's an unsustainable model. It's why I as a candidate for Mayor stand proud - I have always sought to approach business with an entrepreneurial, rather than privileged outlook.
When I started my business, I ensured that people got advice, rather than being exploited; I understood that 'dress down Friday in the City' was great for them, but people in my companies felt more comfortable working all day in the clothes they chose to wear. Let's start doing this with our City's air.
Londoners have one thing in common - they don't want to be told the environment is important - or the air they breathe should be cleaner - they want it cleaner. They want to know what they can do to contribute to making it better, but they also want to be able to live their lives.
Ensuring London Is Attractive - To Live In, To Breathe In and Invest In
There are many things the next mayor can and must do to make the capital's air much cleaner, and I don't think any mayoral candidate would dispute them (other than Stephen Greenhalgh, whose only policy seems to be stopping night buses in a 24 hour city).
We must start improving London's environment while keeping London open for business. We must continue to attract investment, keep driving productivity, and importantly increase housing supply.
So what practically can we do to make environmental improvements without shackling London's growth? The answer is by investing in green tech, funding improvements in green infrastructure, incentivising greener transport and making sensible regulatory changes. Policies of this kind should be supported - arbitrarily punitive measures that lead to unintended consequences should be thrown out, and we must be both bold and smart in our response, otherwise we risk harming people's quality of life in other areas through economic damage.
For instance, Boris's cycling revolution will have a long-term environmental benefit, but only if we build on his legacy. I will support resurfacing roads to make London safer and more welcoming for cyclists, as they've done in Paris, and which many outer London boroughs have called for. This should be complemented by an outward expansion of the Cycle Hire network in more central areas. We should also increase the Congestion charge for high emission engines, invest in electric car pools and expand car clubs to help the Government meet the Supreme Court's order to clean up the capital's air, particularly nitrogen oxide.
However, should we crack down on parking spaces and try to make life difficult for motorists who don't have dirty engines? Absolutely not. Great cities are alive with motion and excess - take these away and you get museum pieces like Florence - who've practically banned cars and with them, the majesty of a real city.
Should we regenerate green belt land to make useable parks where Londoners can go, not just a no man's land between us and the countryside? Absolutely. Should we back ultra-low emission zones, extend them to boroughs outside of the central activity zone and bring more and more networks onto the Oyster system? 100% Should the GLA insist that all new taxis and buses should be hybrid engines or electric vehicles? Definitely.
I Will Not Roadblock London's Economy, Nor Its Environment
On the flip side, we cannot understate the damage that would be done to London's economy if we don't finally get a grip on airport expansion - it's why the green party worry me so much. It is simply not sensible to rule it out - it should run as a complement to improved transport links to Luton and Stansted. Likewise, increasing aviation taxes yet further is not going to produce the routes that we need to remain competitive as an economy.
We must increase energy efficiency through upward, rather than outward, housing development. Standards of development must ensure sustainability as well as beauty. Redensifying the centre rather than building houses on the greenbelt will be my priority as Mayor, along with decontamination of 30sq kms of brownfield sites.
I never thought I'd say this, as someone who is opposed to green belt development, but there are areas of it which could be developed into lovely parks and leisure facilities that make the land much more useful to Londoners and those living just outside the capital. There are certainly small pockets of brownfield land near to existing transport nodes that are ideal for new housing, the sale of which could be used to fund the regeneration of the surrounding land. Any housing on these green belt brownfield sites should, however, be made to fit with local environmental needs, and come with a levy to support regeneration. With additional funding from the London Lottery, we can not only be a city with lots of green space, but green space that people are actually able to use and enjoy.
Fundamentally, we need to bring life into the greenbelt by making it a valuable asset. I think a good first step would be to redirect the money raised from the Lee Valley Park Levy towards supporting investment in green space in and around London. This would end any debate about why Richmond Council or Thurrock's unitary authority in the south of Essex should have to raise money to contribute to a park that barely any of their residents use. We must distinguish the beautiful and precious parts of the green belt from those parts that are simply underused, and this way we can help resolve the housing crisis in a way that doesn't threaten the environment, but in fact provides environmental benefits.
Ultimately, these economic priorities will run in concert with, not be road-blocked by, my desire to make London a greener place to live and work. That must be the balanced approach that any Mayor makes to the capital's multi-faceted challenges, and I look forward to showing why I am uniquely suited to rise to that task.