Boris Johnson’s plan for an “ultra low emission zone” (ULEZ) to reduce London’s air pollution from dirty vehicles should not be delayed for five years and must be widened to cover a much larger area of the capital, the London assembly has told the mayor.
The zone, which Transport for London (TfL) hopes will enable the city to avoid heavy fines from Europe and cut the number of premature deaths from air pollution each year, will not ban traffic but will charge the owners of polluting vehicles up to £100 a day if they drive into most of central London.
With air pollution in London now estimated to be causing the early deaths of over four thousand people a year, the environment committee of the London assembly in its official response to a consultation on the zone argued that waiting until 2020 to introduce the ULEZ would be inexcusable.
Liberal Democrat and Green party assembly members said it should be brought in by 2018 or earlier. But Conservative party assembly members dissociated themselves from the response.
“We are particularly concerned about the report’s recommendations to bring forward the ULEZ to 2018, to increase the daily charge for vehicles and to further tighten the standards. We do not feel that there would be sufficient benefit in going beyond the current proposals, to justify the additional restrictions and costs to vehicle owners, or the impact on London’s economy that these measures are likely to bring,” said the Conservatives.
In a move guaranteed to personally embarrass the mayor, the environment committee also urged TfL not to exempt London’s flagship new routemaster buses from the zone, which Johnson pledged to introduce when he was first elected in 2008 and which first came into service in 2012.
These diesel hybrid buses are expected to be much more polluting than all other London buses by 2020, and should be retrofitted to meet new standards or be banned from the city centre, said the assembly members.
“Levels of NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] are seriously in breach of UK and EU law and are responsible for thousands of early deaths each year in London, as well as other serious health problems. Organisations including London boroughs, the London Health Commission, and the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal Colleges of Physicians have all called for the ULEZ to be strengthened with earlier implementation, wider coverage, stricter standards and stronger incentives,” said the committee.
“Financial costs to a fraction of drivers must be weighed against the health benefits to those same drivers, plus a much larger population of others, who are exposed to air pollution in central London and beyond,” said the assembly members.