Mayor’s Question Time: Housing, pollution, Hammersmith Bridge and conflict over strawberries and cream

Mayor’s Question Time: Housing, pollution, Hammersmith Bridge and conflict over strawberries and cream

Pollution, climate change, housing, Hammersmith Bridge and strawberries and cream were all on the agenda during the latest instalment of Sadiq Khan’s monthly mayor’s question time with the London Assembly today.

The Mayor was keen to emphasis that his Ultra-Low Emission Zone tackling vehicle pollution in the city centre, the first initiative of its kind in the world, is already showing 74 per cent of vehicles meeting the new air quality standards in its first month of operation, and the number of older, more polluting vehicles down by 26 per cent.

Extra help for sole traders wanting to change to less polluting vehicles would be announced shortly, he confirmed, while repeating calls for more government action on scrappage schemes. “We are doing what we can without any assistance from the government,” he said.

City Hall would be continuing legal action against the government’s decision to expand Heathrow Airport – an “environmental disaster” – continue its support for the London Climate Change Partnership, and work with councils outside the capital to safeguard land for a new Thames Barrier, likely to be required by the 2070s, the Mayor also told assembly members.

One hundred extra water fountains would also be installed in the capital, he added, reporting that in the first year of the scheme, designed to reduce plastic bottle use, the equivalent of 155,000 half-litre bottles had been filled.

There were no obvious political differences over these pollution and climate change issues, but there was conflict over housing. The Mayor is claiming record-breaking numbers of affordable home started in 2018/19, exceeding government-set targets. But there have been long-running claims by Tory Assembly Members of “double-counting” and of higher numbers of social rent homes being built under Boris Johnson. Khan argued that strict auditing meant no benefit accrued to him from double-counting, and that Johnson had benefited from funding from the last Labour government. “We are now making up the ground lost under the previous Mayor,” he said.

There was more of a clash over Hammersmith Bridge, which is currently closed to traffic due to structural concerns. Khan should “start behaving like a statesman” and get the repair work done, said senior Tory AM Tony Arbour. But Khan stressed that the bridge is owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council and said that although Transport for London is currently funding investigatory and design work, there were “Other [previous] examples where there are big problems in relation to things owned by third parties, where we have been reluctant to step in”.

TfL would be coming forward with timescales and costing in the summer, he said, and funding would be discussed then. “It’s an old bridge being used in modern times. TfL is doing the work to see what is needed. We need to understand the scale of the challenge.” Problems with the bridge illustrated general funding problems with London’s roads and other infrastructure, he added, made worse by the Brexit “paralysis” holding up decision-making. “Government should be investing across the UK to ensure our cities and regions have the infrastructure and transport systems they need,” he said.

Strawberries and cream? This was all about the Mayor’s assertion on ITV’s This Morning show that a TfL promotional ad for the District Line featuring an image of the Wimbledon fortnight staple had not been banned pursuant to the wider TfL curbs on unhealthy food advertising. 

In a protracted exchange with Tory AM Andrew Boff, he asserted: “There is no ban on advertising strawberries and cream on the tube”. But TfL had taken the opportunity to update a number of campaigns, taking a cautious view and “setting an example”.

Details of all Mayor’s Question Time sessions and and other London Assembly meetings are here.

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