Diane Abbott MP: Dramatic action is necessary to tackle London’s lethal air

Posted On: 
9th June 2015

Labour's London Mayoral contender Diane Abbott writes ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on Air pollution in London.

The fight to cut air pollution in London is literally a life and death matter.  With the highest levels of air pollution of any European capital, thousands of Londoners are dying prematurely every year from lethal doses of pollution in the very air we breathe.

As a hopeful candidate to become Mayor of London in 2016 I understand that provision of a healthy and clean living environment is critical to London’s future.  

The links between air pollution and afflictions such as bronchitis, asthma, strokes, cancer and heart disease are unequivocal. Moreover, children growing up near busy roads in London have been clinically proven to develop smaller lung capacity and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.


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In the face of such an urgent crisis Central Government and City Hall have abjectly failed in their duty to protect Londoners from such a severe public health risk.

DEFRA currently predicts that the Greater London area won’t fall in line with EU limits on air pollution until after 2030.  The stunning human cost of this will be a bloody stain on Boris Johnson’s record as Mayor of London, as with executive powers over transport in the capital, he has a direct opportunity to tackle the issue and to save lives.

Instead his approach has been inadmissibly weak. His repeated backward steps on the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which now won’t be introduced until 2020, are a stunning indictment of his lacklustre efforts to solve the issue of toxic fumes. We must demand a bigger, stronger, sooner ULEZ by 2018, or face the deathly consequences.

There has been a big debate in recent years about the issue of airport expansion and with airport related traffic being a major contributor to air pollution in London, it is essential that the issue is treated with the utmost care. The Airports Commission has been thorough in their assessment and noted that both schemes for airport expansion at Heathrow would cause aggravated breaches of the NO2 annual mean limit value in 2030 and what’s more, perhaps cause the worsening of NO2 levels where limit values will already be exceeded.  With the current dire state of London’s air quality serious questions must be asked about whether airport expansion is compatible with improving public health and working to ensure London is a cleaner, greener, and more liveable city.

I believe that an incoming Mayor of London can realise the goal of making London the world’s greenest capital city. This is achievable with a comprehensive overhaul in the culture of city planning. We must insist that sustainability forms the core tenets in all sectors of planning, from transport, housing, education to business. By making a London a more open, greener and more pedestrian and cycle friendly city, not only will we save lives, but cement London’s future prosperity that is currently under threat from a lethal smog.