London councils discuss common ground on air quality

Representatives from 18 boroughs discuss electric vehicles, cycling, car scrappage schemes and ULEZ expansion at air quality event

An expanded ultra-low emission zone boundary and an emphasis on cycling and cleaner petrol fuels were among key measures proposed by London borough councils to improve air quality in the UK capital.

Representatives from 18 London borough councils came together at a policy seminar event last week (November 4), jointly hosted by regional government association London Councils and the City of London Corporation at Guildhall, with the aim of formulating common policy positions on air quality.

(L-R) Cllr Julian Bell, GLA's Elliot Treharne, Dr Iarla Kilbane-Dawe, KCL's Dr Gary Fuller and BBC 5Live's John Pienaar

(L-R) Cllr Julian Bell, GLA’s Elliot Treharne, Dr Iarla Kilbane-Dawe, KCL’s Dr Gary Fuller and BBC 5Live’s John Pienaar

Chaired by BBC 5 Live’s Jon Pienaar, the event saw several presentations from consultants, scientists and policy-makers, with councillor Julian Bell — chair of London Councils’ transport and environment committee— providing an overview of boroughs’ role and activities in relation to air quality.

Cllr Bell said that a number of London boroughs “had taken huge strides to improve air quality in recent years. This includes Croydon which has been working to tackle dust from building sites and various policies in Brent, Sutton and Wandsworth. In Ealing we have been trying for a modal shift and have been investing in cycling. We are also re-examining land use regeneration and we can release land with a low air quality impact.”

He also reiterated London Councils’ stance against local authorities paying potential EU fines for the UK breaching legal air quality limits: “Boroughs are now concerned about the government passing on these fines. We still believe these fines are unfair and disproportionate. Our ability to tackle air quality has been undermined because of the cuts.”


Elsewhere, councillor Bell also said that local authorities should look at the opportunity to develop low emission neighbourhoods as well as encouraging a move away from diesel vehicles through taxation. And, he signalled support for making the proposed ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) for London wider than has been proposed by the Mayor.

Indeed, while GLA’s air quality manager Elliot Treharne later suggested at the event that there was “potential in future for possibly expanding the ULEZ”, many boroughs expressed support for expanding the proposed ultra low emission zone boundaries sooner rather than later.

There was concern from the likes of Hackney and Redbridge representatives that the current zone boundary — set to be the same as the congestion charge zone — will simply move more car journeys into areas just outside the border of the planned ULEZ.

Hackney borough councillor, Feryal Demirci, said: “We are trying to do everything we can but we cannot stop people driving through our borough.”


Also speaking at the event, Dr Iarla Kilbane-Dawe, of consultancy Par Hill Research, told the audience that some air quality improvement work “can be carried out quite quickly and quite cheaply”.

But, he said that green living walls — which see specially-grown vegetation stuck on walls in urban areas to try and improve air quality — are “an extremely expensive way of mopping up air pollution”.

Dr Kilbane-Dawe also criticised the EU limits on pollution from cars which, he said, didn’t reflect the health effects. And, he noted that drivers also do “really badly from vehicle pollution” because they sit in queues behind the car in front. “Diesel is a very dirty fuel and biodiesel may be especially dangerous. LPG and CNG are very clean and petrol is relatively clean.”

Indeed, the petrol engine was praised by several speakers as the most viable alternative to diesel cars, even better than electric vehicles because of the cost of these and the fact that batteries were still not generally capable of powering vehicles for longer journeys.

Dr Kilbane-Dawe suggested that electric vehicles would have a “high penetration towards the end of the 2020s”, but added that until then “we should be thinking about cleaner fuels because standards have not worked very well and they have consistently not worked”.

The London Mayor and Transport for London are currently consulting on proposals for ULEZ in central London in 2020 (see story).


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