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We need a green revolution for London

September 22, 2020 8:57 AM
By Luisa Porritt

Building back better must mean transforming London into the greenest capital on earth

Luisa Porritt

If you are a Londoner, a small guilty part of you probably enjoyed the brief respite from pollution over lockdown. But it should not take a pandemic and large parts of our economy being shut down for us to breathe clean air. We now have an opportunity, while our communities have been strengthened by their response to Covid-19, to design a London that is better equipped to address its challenges.

That must include a green revolution for our capital. More than 9,000 Londoners die prematurely each year from our toxic air. This severe injustice disproportionately harms Londoners and drags down the whole of the UK. London's poor air is the main reason that, as a nation, we are failing the EU's legally binding limits on pollution.

There are several measures the Mayor of London could introduce to improve our air quality. Labour-run councils, which dominate large swathes of London, have a terrible record of protecting our mature trees. Most of them have unambitious annual tree planting programmes. In his 2016 campaign, Sadiq Khan promised to plant two million more trees in London. Only 10% of that target has been reached.

Diesel car use should be discouraged, while ensuring those who cannot walk or cycle have alternative clean modes of transport available. London's bus fleet must go electric as soon as possible. The congestion charge area should be extended beyond the Mayor's current Ultra Low Emission Zone. Applications should reopen for the diesel van and minibus scrappage scheme. London boroughs need more electric vehicle charging points. Free travel for under-18s must be retained so that families can continue to use public transport. More school streets and low traffic neighbourhoods should be introduced, in consultation with residents and local businesses.

As Caroline Pidgeon has highlighted in her role as our Lib Dem London Assembly member, Crossrail delays make it more difficult for commuters to access central London in an environmentally efficient way. A third runway at Heathrow would have devastating consequences for our air quality, as would the Mayor's planned Silvertown Tunnel for which costs have ballooned.

We don't have to reinvent the wheel to enhance our environment. London can look to other cities for examples of good practice. Take Paris, which has more car-free days than we do and free public transport on days when pollution rises over a certain level. Paris has also made a greater success of introducing new cycle lanes than London.

Unemployment, another unfortunate consequence of the pandemic, can be tackled at the same time as the climate emergency. As a global pioneering centre, London should lead the way in the creation of new, green jobs, at a time when automation, a public health crisis and the fallout from Brexit are changing how our economy works. As your Mayoral candidate, I will fight for a London that protects its environment, supports jobs and businesses, and offers a transport system that works for everyone.

Luisa is running to be the Lib Dems candidate for Mayor of London. She's also the leader of Camden Lib Dems and Council Group and a Councillor for Belsize.