The government has announced a £106m funding boost for research and development of green vehicles, new batteries and low carbon technology. The announcement, made at the world’s first zero-emissions vehicles summit in Birmingham and Bedfordshire, is a welcome boost for an industry that supports thousands of jobs and can help in our fight against air pollution. With more than half of London’s problem coming from road transportation, getting toxic vehicles off our streets and decarbonising our transport system cannot happen soon enough.
But announcing funding and hosting a summit is simply not enough to make a real difference. The government’s air quality plans have been repeatedly slammed by the High Court as unlawfully inadequate, and the “25-year” environment plan, published earlier this year by Michael Gove, failed to demonstrate any of the ambition we need for the capital.
One of the government’s flagship environment policies is the £220m Clean Air Fund, launched in March 2018. But London is not eligible to apply to it. This is despite the fact that London contains 40% of the most polluting roads in England and Wales, and that air pollution contributes to nearly 10,000 premature deaths in the city every year. Denying London the opportunity to apply for clean air funding is clearly wrong and unfair, makes no sense whatsoever, and is seriously letting down Londoners.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is, however, taking a lead on air quality. During his term as Mayor, he has committed to making London a zero-carbon city by 2050, which will require bold and innovative thinking. The T-Charge has been in place since October 2017, and the Mayor’s decision to bring forward the start of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to 2019 and to expand its boundaries to the North and South Circulars is another great step forward .
I would like to see Londoners able to make use of a scrappage scheme through which they can exchange older, polluting vehicles for zero-emission cars, discounted car club membership or even public transport credits. Sadiq has previously lobbied the government to introduce such a scheme, which would be a great way for the Government to show they are serious about decarbonising road transport. In the meantime, I will continue to use my role as Labour’s London Assembly spokesperson on the environment to hold the Mayor to account on delivering his ambitious proposals.
Fundamentally, the government needs to turn words into actions over air pollution, because we as a society and as a planet cannot afford to wait any longer. That is why I have supported the campaign to introduce a new Clean Air Act for the 21st Century. I want to see ambitious targets backed up by meaningful policy commitments to ensure that breathing clean air is a right that everyone in London gets to enjoy.
Leonie Cooper is London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth and Labour’s spokesperson on environmental issues.