Toddlers being pushed in buggies down London high streets are “vulnerable” to pollution blamed for thousands of premature deaths a year, a Cabinet minister warned today.
Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Davey stressed parents had raised with him fears that when wheeling their young children along busy roads in pushchairs, they are close to the level of exhaust pipes belching out harmful diesel soot.
In an interview with The Standard, the senior Liberal Democrat called on Boris Johnson to step up the battle against dirty air with a quicker switch to electric vehicles.
He also suggested the Mayor put out “smog alerts” on the Transport for London website, at bus stops, possibly on buses and other places where this could be done cheaply.
Accusing Mr Johnson of “flim-flamming about” on improving London’s air, Mr Davey stressed children were particularly at risk from traffic pollution.
“If you had electric vehicles, they would not be exposed. If you had low emission vehicles, they would not be exposed. But at the moment they are vulnerable if they are being pushed down congested high streets. In a buggy they are at near exhaust pipe level,” he said.
“It’s vital for the health of our children that we take this issue far more seriously.”
He accused the Mayor of “not delivering” on a pledge to put London at the forefront of the electric car revolution.
“London needs to go electric and we need to start with the buses,” he added.
“Boris’ record on electric buses is hopeless.”
But Mr Johnson’s allies hit back at Mr Davey’s attack just days before the local elections.
“This is the same Climate Change Secretary who has repeatedly ignored Boris’ entreaties to help us improve air quality,” said one.
The Mayor’s senior environmental adviser Matthew Pencharz insisted Mr Johnson was delivering the most ambitious set of measures in the world to tackle air pollution, including an ultra low emission zone.
“He is pulling every lever that he can – it’s not unreasonable to ask the Government to do its bit too,” he added.
“Since being elected, he has driven down emissions across London, leading to a halving of the number of people living in areas with poor air quality.”
Mr Davey defended his record on making Britain’s energy system greener and accused Mr Johnson of a “cop out” by highlighting that central Government needed to do more on air quality.
The MP for Kingston and Surbiton added: “He has been lackadaisical.
“If there is a smog problem in London, he should be looking every single way possible to get that message over to people.
“If they have got asthma, they can take mitigating effects. If they want to help out, they can change their transport plans – so maybe they would say ‘alright I’ll work at home’.”
He praised Mr Johnson for the Boris Bike scheme and supported his call for changes to car tax – vehicle excise duty system – to tackle local air pollution as well as climate change.