Mr Khan has a huge public health crisis on his hands. We are delighted that he has already announced that he will be consulting on new plans to tackle London’s air quality. For older people, particularly those with existing lung and heart conditions, these plans cannot come soon enough.
Tiny particles of dust in the air known as particulate matter and polluting gases like nitrogen dioxide, can worsen people’s conditions and increase hospitalisation. For all of us, air pollution increases our chance of getting lung cancer and heart disease. For the Capital’s children, this air could be doing long-term damage to their lung growth. It is estimated that 9,500 deaths a year can be linked to air pollution in London. If the current air quality plans aren’t revised, this will be the case for at least another 10 years.
1. An ambitious plan for a bigger, better, carefully-design ultra-low emission zone within his first term
Mr Khan has already announced that he is going to consult on the extension and earlier implementation of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ). This zone would restrict the most polluting vehicles from travelling into the centre of London. If London’s air is going to be brought into legal limits by the promised deadline of 2025, then the zone will need to be both ambitious and extensive.
2. Carefully-designed plans that don’t make it harder for older people to mobilise
The ULEZ and any plans to clean up the air will need to be carefully-designed with Londoners. This is essential to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact on older people who may have reduced mobility and may have no alternative but to travel by car. A recent patient survey by the BLF showed that 86% of people we asked were concerned that restrictions to diesel cars would make it harder for them to maintain their independence. The Mayor should also look at extending the ULEZ to cover areas where it can have the greatest impact, for instance, areas of high deprivation and increased risk of lung disease in East London.
3. All London buses to be low emission by the end of his first term
Whilst progress has been made in cleaning up London’s buses, this is not happening quickly or effectively enough. Currently, only 1,500 Transport for London buses are hybrid out of a bus fleet of 8,600. Public transport vehicles are major sources of diesel emissions in London, in large part because of the amount of time they spend on the road and the “stop-start” nature of their journeys. Mr Khan has said by 2018 only hybrid or zero emission buses will be purchased by TfL. However, he should not assume that these greener buses are emitting fumes that are safe for our health. We know that current emissions testing doesn’t reflect the actual fumes that come out of many vehicles. Last year, TfL also admitted that some of the batteries on hybrid buses were failing, meaning they were only running on diesel. We hope Mr Khan will lead the way in bringing in real-world emissions testing for all London buses, lorries and taxis. This will help measure the health impact from emissions, ensure green technology is working and provide accurate data for the Mayor’s air quality plans.
4. Extension of London’s active travel networks along safe and clean routes
We need viable, zero-emission alternatives to public transport and cars. An extension in cycling and walking networks will not only help keep London moving but reduce harmful emissions. Alternative options need to be safe, realistic and affordable so they work for all Londoners. Mr Khan’s plans for a “next generation of cycle superhighways,” are very welcome and we hope these will be built to avoid London’s most polluted roads. On average the health benefits of walking and cycling have been shown to outweigh the risk that air pollution poses to our lungs. These benefits are even greater if cycle routes are planned away from bottlenecks and congested areas. He should also extend projects that improve people’s confidence and ability to access cycling such as TfL’s cycle training schemes. As well as recognise, that for many people with a lung condition cycling may not be a viable alternative because of their reduced lung capacity and mobility.
5. Effective air pollution warnings and health advice from City Hall
It is essential that people, particularly those with a lung or heart condition, are able to protect their health during high pollution episodes. Even if Mr Khan takes extended and ambitious action to tackle air pollution, it is likely that unsafe pollution levels will continue for many more years. 75% of respondents in our 2015 patient survey said they were keen to receive localised air pollution information, only 9% said they currently did. Therefore, the new Mayor must improve warnings during high pollution episodes and make sure this is accompanied with health advice. He should explore the ways this could be communicated to Londoners, for instance through TfL’s advertising boards or on the London Assembly website. Londoners need clear information and accessible advice to be able to protect their lungs.
6. Protection for our children’s lungs
Around 330,000 children currently go to London schools in areas of illegally high pollution. It’s no surprise then that 98% of parents we surveyed last year were concerned about the impact of air pollution on their children’s lungs. Mr Khan revealed just this week, further evidence showing how polluted London’s schools are. The good news is children’s lung function can be improved if their exposure is reduced. If monitoring is improved around all London schools and reported online then all parents would have access to accurate information to protect their children. He should also target funding towards schools to enable them to tackle pollution locally through schemes, such as anti-idling projects.
A greener future for London is not just an ideal but a public health necessity. The challenge facing the Mayor may be high, but the solutions are tested, available and life-saving.
Together, we can make London a city where we can all safely breathe clean air.