THE BLOG

London's Air Quality Must Be a Mayoral Priority

30/07/2014 16:56 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

The air quality in London has become one of the worst in the world. For the two years I have been campaigning around London for the mayoral selection, Londoners have repeatedly cited air pollution as a problem that is long overdue in being tackled. People in this city are becoming increasingly concerned about the air that they - and their children, families and friends - breathe. However, despite their justified concern, air quality is an area that has been almost completely neglected by Boris Johnson.

The threat of fines of up to £300million from the European Commission - which in February sent a 'Letter of formal notice' to the mayor for the capital's breaching of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit values in 16 of 43 zones - has finally pushed Boris into looking at this crucial issue. Yesterday, he announced measures to begin tackling the problem - however, on past evidence of his commitment, this will amount to little action and even less progress.

Boris is only concerned with cosmetic measures to burnish his political reputation as opposed to serious and radical solutions that would improve and save the lives of Londoners. For example, in 2012 he tasked three specially adapted gritting lorries to spray adhesive around the worst pollution hotspots in the city in an attempt to 'stick' exhaust fumes to the asphalt. This 'tactic' focused on areas around monitoring points, and had minimal success.

More widely, Boris' air quality strategy comprises of long-term improvements that he knows he will not have to deliver on - such as an ultra-low emission zone to start in 2020 and some tinkering with the capital's buses and taxis (however, during his time in office he has continuously failed to allow new types of far less-polluting taxis on to London's streets).

Londoners deserve better. Their health is more important than the mayor's attempts to greenwash his reputation ahead of his move to Westminster. The mayor must implement radical policies to ensure that the unacceptable death toll of poor air quality - estimated at some 4,300 deaths per year - drops.

I believe that action should start in Oxford Street - which has become the most polluted street in the world. Scientists recently recorded peak levels of 463 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air on Oxford Street, including an average of 135 micrograms - the latter is over three times higher than the EU's safety limit. This is one of London's premier destinations - for tourists and locals alike - yet all Boris has promised is to take out 20% of the hundreds of buses that cause daily traffic jams.

This is not enough. It is widely recognised that there is only one solution to improving Oxford Street - both in terms of air quality and more widely - and that is pedestrianisation. This would not only reduce air pollution, but also create a vibrant and pleasant environment for shopping and relaxing. If Oxford Street is not pedestrianised soon, shoppers and others will turn their focus to malls around the capital - a mass exodus from the heart of the West End.

This is not a time for half-measures - which is all Boris has promised, and the entirety of what it seems he can do. The capital and its millions of residents and visitors deserve effective and long-term solutions, and an end to the needless deaths caused by inaction.