At a glance: how do the London Mayoral candidates’ air pollution proposals stack up?

April 21, 2016

Following on from our recent reports on air pollution in London, this blog provides a detailed comparison of the Mayoral candidates’ policies to clean up London’s air.

Air quality is becoming a key health concern for Londoners, as well as one of the major policy issues in the Mayoral contest. Recent polling by the Evening Standard revealed than London parents see toxic air as the ‘biggest health threat to their children’, with nearly 70% saying that they are worried about children breathing in dirty air. 75% of Londoners support legal action to force the Government to clean up London’s air, and 62% of Londoners support a complete ban on diesel lorries in Central London.

The awareness and understanding of the issue continues to grow due to a range of factors such as the ongoing legal action against the Government by Client Earth, campaigns by the Evening Standard and Clean Air in London, and research by ourselves and Kings College London amongst others. Earlier this week, Greenpeace protesters fitted air pollution masks to prominent statues around London to further raise the profile of the problem of air pollution in the capital.

The importance of the issue is reflected in the London mayoral campaign, with all of the main candidates focusing heavily on the issue in their manifestoes. Polling shows that of the mayoral candidates, Zac Goldsmith and Sian Berry are the most trusted to address London’s air quality problems.

But how do their air quality proposals stack up against one another?

This blog provides analysis of the air quality pledges made by each of the four main candidates in their manifestoes (see detailed table below). In our most recent report we proposed a ‘ten point plan’ to address air pollution in London, which we have used as the basis for this analysis, as well as identifying any additional proposals made by the candidates in respect of air pollution.

More similarity than difference?

Overall, in reviewing the candidates’ manifestoes, we find that there is generally more similarity than difference in the emphasis they place on air pollution and their proposals on how to tackle it.

All of the mayoral candidates see air quality as a key issue, and have devoted a significant section of their manifesto to the issue (as well as related issues such as energy and climate change, and congestion). Sian Berry has set out the clearest overall target for improving air quality, pledging to bring air quality within legal limits by 2020. Whilst we applaud this ambitious approach to tackling air pollution, it is unclear whether this target can be achieved in practice (or the cost of doing so).

All of the candidates agree on the need to tighten the Low Emission Zones in order to restrict the most polluting vehicles from entering London. Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry have set out very ambitious proposals in this area, proposing to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) area and bring forward the implementation of the policy from 2020 to 2018 or 2019. Sian Berry would replace the Congestion Charge and Low Emission Zones with a smart road-charging system, whilst Caroline Pidgeon would ban all diesel vehicles within an expanded ULEZ by 2024. Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan also support changes to the ULEZ policy but to date have been less specific about the changes they would like to see happen, or timescales.

Cleaning up the bus fleet is also priority for all candidates, since this is another area over which the Mayor has direct control. All of the candidates have committed to purchasing cleaner buses in the future. Zac Goldsmith has proposed to retrofit all existing buses by 2020, which will make an important contribution to tackling emissions from the existing fleet. Sian Berry proposes to move the entire bus fleet to hybrid/electric by 2020, although we think the cost of this proposal may turn out to be prohibitive, since it would require the replacement of 6,000+ buses over the next 4 years at a cost running into the £billions. The candidates have all included policies to promote the use of electric vehicles and car clubs, with Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Pidgeon reiterating our suggestion that London needs to create a competitive marketplace for car clubs and charging infrastructure.

After road transport the next most significant sources of air pollution is gas combustion, as highlighted in our reports. All of the candidates have proposed measures to tackle emissions from gas boilers, with Zac Goldsmith and Sian Berry backing our proposal for a boiler scrappage scheme in London, and Sadiq Khan pledging investments in older homes to improve energy efficiency. All four candidates also support tighter efficiency standards, with Zac Goldsmith pledging for all new homes to meet the zero carbon standard, Sian Berry proposing for all GLA buildings to be A-rated by 2020, and Caroline Pidgeon proposing to require landlords to undertake efficiency improvements. All of the candidates have also included measures to promote low carbon sources of energy, in particular solar. One area where we think that all of the candidates could go further is ensuring that controls are in place to restrict the development of decentralised fossil-fuel generators in London, through tighter planning restrictions and emissions standards.

Whilst there are many similarities, there are also some differences. For example, on taxis, Sian Berry proposes for all taxis to be zero emission by 2018, whilst Caroline Pidgeon proposes that City Hall should bulk buy electric cabs. Zac Goldsmith has adopted our proposal for TfL to provide loans to convert existing taxis to run on LPG. Sadiq Khan’s manifesto does not mention any policies to specifically address emissions from taxis.

Local versus National action?

One of the key questions posed in our recent report is whether air pollution in London is best tackled through policies at local, national or European level. Indeed, our suggestion is that action is required at all three levels in order to address air pollution. Our analysis has shown that the largest overall reductions in emissions across London would come from the introduction of tighter diesel emission standards, and national taxation policies to rebalance the vehicle fleet away from diesels. However, targeted policies such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone would be more impactful in Central London and on the most polluted roads.

It is here where the candidates differ significantly in their approach. Whilst all of the candidates have included London-specific measures to address air pollution, there is more variation in the extent to which they raise wider policy changes in their manifestoes. Zac Goldsmith supports our proposals for tighter emission standards, changes to vehicle taxation, and a diesel scrappage scheme; whereas the other manifestoes support some but not all of these proposals.

Additional pledges

All of the candidates have also made a number of pledges which go above and beyond the policies included in our ‘ten point plan’. All of the candidates oppose expansion of Heathrow airport, in fact Sian Berry also proposes to close City Airport. All of the candidates are keen to promote active travel (walking and cycling) with a range of policies such as increasing spending on cycling, extending the “Boris bike” scheme, and measures to improve cycle safety.

They have all included policies to address freight to reduce both congestion and air pollution. For example, Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry would ban lorries at peak times, whilst Zac proposes the use of freight consolidation centres (as proposed in our report). Importantly, all of the candidates also propose to increase awareness of air pollution through a range of proposals such as signage, pollution alerts, and air quality improvement plans.

In summary…

A key lesson from our work on air pollution over the last year is that it is an enormously difficult problem to address. Our latest report shows that air pollution levels can be brought within legal limits across 99.9% of London by 2025. However, this will be challenging to achieve and the next Mayor of London will need to devote significant time, attention and funding to the issue. The candidates have developed an expansive list of policies to address air pollution in London, and whoever is elected as Mayor on May 5th, they could do well simply by cherry-picking the best policies identified to date.

Summary of Mayoral Candidates’ air pollution policies against Policy Exchange ‘ten point plan’ (see sources below)

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