All but two of London’s boroughs are exceeding EU limits for a toxic gas linked to respiratory problems, ministers have admitted.
Bromley and Sutton were the only two boroughs to meet the annual mean limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. NO2 is a pollutant created by diesel vehicles.
The figures suggest that 24-hour EU limits for another pollutant, fine particulates known as PM10s, were met in every borough. But limits for a more harmful, smaller pollutant, PM2.5, were missed in seven boroughs: Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Camden and Brent.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP who is campaigning for his party’s nomination as mayoral candidate, and who requested the numbers, said: “These figures paint a dismal picture of London’s long-term efforts to tackle air pollution and underline the need for a much bolder and more radical approach.
“When it comes to reducing certain pollutants, it’s clear that any progress we have seen has been lacklustre at best, and in some cases simply non-existent.”
The capital’s air pollution problem was brought to the fore last week when an independent review into airport expansion backed a third runway at Heathrow. The Davies Commission said it supported Heathrow only with the proviso that there was a “legal commitment on air quality” that new aviation capacity would not be added if it delayed compliance with EU limits.
The capital as a whole is not expected to comply with NO2 limits until 2030, even without expansion at Heathrow. As recently as 2011 every single borough failed to meet the limits, according to the figures released by Rory Stewart, minister for the natural environment.
Khan and several of the other London mayoral hopefuls, including Conservative Zac Goldsmith, oppose building a third runway at Heathrow on air and noise pollution grounds. The consultation for the Davies review was extended to take in further evidence on air pollution after the government was ordered in April by the Supreme Court to submit a plan for tackling NO2 by the end of the year
Simon Birkett, founder of the Clean Air in London campaign, said: “With most of the breaches of NO2 laws in London due to diesel vehicles on Transport for London roads, it is clear the mayor has failed to help boroughs comply with these limits.
“The situation is starkest around Heathrow… where a third runway would result in staggering increases in NO2 concentrations beside nearby roads.”
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, plans to introduce an “ultra low emission zone” (ULEZ) in 2020 to tackle the capital’s pollution problem, charging the owners of the most polluting vehicles up to £100 a day.
Last week, Transport for London announced that a fully electric double decker bus would go into service from October in a bid to cut pollutants. NO2 pollution hotspots such as Oxford Street are caused largely by a high concentration of diesel buses.
Later this year the government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants is expected to factor NO2 into its calculations on the number of prematurely deaths caused annually by pollution. This is expected to see the number of deaths double from around 30,000 to 60,000.
The latest borough-by-borough data on pollutants, for 2014, will be published in September, Stewart said.