While a Labour Mayor and Council are taking a lead, we need the investment of a Labour government to ensure our children’s lungs are safe.
Poor air quality is arguably the most important Public Health issue facing London today, every year contributing to over 9,000 premature deaths and an estimated annual economic cost of £3.7billion. While the life expectancy of all Londoners is impacted, the poorest and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected.
Facing this situation we’ve seen Sadiq step up to implement world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), lead the way on implementing a programme of rapid electric vehicle charge points, clean up our bus and taxi fleets, freeze TfL fares and introduce the Hopper bus fare to make public transport more affordable. He’s also built a record 140km of new cycleways and allocated £45m pounds to van and car scrappage scheme in London.
At a local level due to high nitrogen dioxide emissions Croydon has been designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and Croydon’s Labour Council has produced a 5 year action plan to tackle air pollution at local level. The plan identifies actions under key areas: emissions from developments and buildings; public health and awareness raising; delivery servicing and freight; council fleet and cleaner transport.
Now we’re going further to reduce poor air quality and its impact on the most vulnerable, focusing on our children as priority. After the successful pilot of “School Streets” – which limit traffic immediately outside schools, promote more cycling and walking and deliver improved road safety and air quality in the area surrounding the school we’re expanding the number to ten schools and hope to go further in years to come. We’re also proposing to introduce emission-based charges for resident and business parking permits, plus a diesel surcharge, to all controlled parking permit zones within the borough. The main purpose of this proposal is to incentivise the uptake of cleaner, zero emission capable cars and penalise those with the highest emissions. Bolder steps could also see a zero emissions zone in the town centre to allow only public transport and electric vehicles, a change which would have a real impact on reducing air pollution. Other improvements will see Croydon invest £20million over a five-year period to improve cycling infrastructure and a further £17m to transform the concerete jungle of Old Town into a neighbourhood that encourages walking and cycling. This will enable us to get out of our cars, improving both personal health and air quality over the long term.
Reliable and sustainable public transport will of course be vital to further motivate people to get out of their cars. One of the key transport infrastructure investments we have to stay committed to is extending the tram network. Funding is the main challenge and one of the ways to fund such transport infrastructure could be to follow the Nottingham City Council model of a workplace parking levy, a small charge on large employers which have car parks for their employees. This approach, combined with both Council and Mayoral funding could enable us to deliver the tram service we need. Only a tram will get us out of cars and support additional job creation and investment in our area.
While we’re taking action at the local level, urgent and robust action is also required by central government. At present the government’s approach lacks leadership, is woefully unambitious, fails to create a clear and coherent policy and doesn’t provide sufficient resources to local government. While a Labour Mayor and Labour Council can make a real difference, national leadership in the form of a coherent Clean Air Act is now required to accelerate the take up of cleaner vehicles and fund a national vehicle scrappage scheme to support this happen fast. Here’s to the Labour government we need to see these changes happen!
Jamie writing with Cllr Muhammad Ali