We have £18 million to spare to help improve London’s air quality before next year’s Olympics - now that the construction of the venues has come in under budget. And if the Mayor doesn’t get on with it, we stand to face a £175 million fine from the International Olympic Committee. That’s the price of exceeding EU pollution limits during the event and is laid down in a contract that was signed by the Mayor and the government in 2005. So they have had six years to put measures in place to make sure London’s air quality meets the required standards. What progress has been made?
There is the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) scheme, which was introduced in 2008 to help protect us from the health hazards of diesel. Under the LEZ, vehicles like lorries, coaches, and vans (not cars or motorbikes) are encouraged to deal with emissions by fitting a filter, replacing their vehicle with a cleaner model, or face a fine of £100 to £200 a day for driving within a zone that covers most of central London. The scheme is to apply more stringent criteria from January 2012. At the moment, vehicles have to meet the Euro III standards for PM10 emissions (applies to all vehicles registered as new on or after 1st October 2001). Next year, they will have to meet the tighter Euro IV standards, which apply to all vehicles registered as new on or after 1st October 2006. This will take more of the older, dirtier vehicles off the roads of central London - or make them clean up, or pay by the day for poisoning us with their fumes.
The London Assembly has also been debating the possibility of introducing a Clean Air Zone which would bring more vehicles under the controls currently imposed by the LEZ such as cars and taxis that do not meet the Euro IV standards. Given this is just at the discussion stage and the scheme is not universally favoured, it is unlikely to come into effect in time for the Olympics. I don’t know how well the LEZ is working, but it can’t be perfect because there have been a number of well-publicised incidents this year that reveal that the capital is still one of the worst spots in Europe for air pollution.
It now seems likely that we will be resorting to short-term fixes for the Olympics - such as severe restrictions on the number of vehicles on the road during that time period. What an opportunity lost to put some effective long-term policies in place, and make them work!
Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London told us “We promised the world ‘The Greenest Games Ever’. With a year to go, this promise looks very hollow.” He explains that:
"Instead of playing ‘mind-Games’ with Londoners to keep them off the roads or a last minute odd and even number plate ban, our leaders should be implementing and keeping a Clean Air Zone for inner London that would ban the most polluting older diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of London."