Despite current efforts to expand cycling and crack down on diesel engines, much more needs to be done. The recent revelation that London’s new Routemaster buses’ batteries are not working makes the urgency even greater.
Since the 1952 Clean Air Act, which banned emissions of black smoke in London after a smog that lead to more than 4,000 premature deaths, legislation has not kept up with developments. Today’s pollution, which is killing even more people, is invisible. The London electorate don’t want prescriptions or lectures on the city’s predicament – they want action to make our air cleaner.
Of course, governing a city that is a beacon – of finance, freedom, innovation, entrepreneurialism and culture – whilst ensuring we don’t choke on the externalities of our economic success is a fine line to tread. We must continue to attract investment, keep driving productivity, and, importantly, increase the housing supply.
A city, however must never embrace success at the cost of its citizens. The success of a city must be measured in quality of life for all, for which both economy and environment are essential elements.
So how can we 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. 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. If elected, I will support resurfacing roads to make London safer and more welcoming for cyclists: they’ve done this in Paris, and many outer London boroughs have called for it, too.
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, ban delivery lorries at peak times to improve cycling safety, and invest in electric car pools to help the government meet the Supreme Court’s order to clean the capital’s air, particularly of nitrogen oxide.
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. Take this away and you get museum pieces like Florence – a city which has practically banned cars and, with them, the majesty of a real city.
But 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. And 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? Yes. Should the GLA insist that all new taxis and buses should be hybrid engines or electric vehicles? Definitely.
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 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. My priority as mayor will not be to build houses on the green belt, but to redensify the centre, and to decontaminate of 30km2 of brownfield sites.
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. You can count on me to constantly lobby for this – the fact that Londoners deserve better air.