Boris Johnson today announced the suspension of a key measure designed to improve London's air quality on the grounds that it would have a "detrimental impact" on small businesses in the economic downturn.
The mayor of London suspended the third phase of the low emission zone, which was introduced last year by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, as a way to cut harmful emissions by encouraging the replacement of high polluting vans and lorries with new models that met the required emission standards.
The scheme currently targets buses, coaches, and the most polluting lorries over 3.5 tonnes. Failure to meet the required emissions standards leads to a £200 daily charge, or a £1,000 daily fine.
Phase three of the scheme was scheduled to start in October next year and would have affected 90,000 much smaller vehicles, including vans and minibuses. A daily £100 charge was due to be imposed on those that did not meet the emissions standards. Failure to pay would have incurred a £500 fine for each day that the vans entered the zone, which covers the Greater London area.
"I want to do all I can to ease the burden of the economic downturn that is affecting us all at this time," the mayor said. "Although the low emission zone has been successful in tackling the worst polluters, and will continue to play an important role, it is not the right time to press ahead with extending it to include smaller vehicles like vans and minibuses.
"Many of these will be owned by small businesses, charities, and self-employed Londoners already hard hit by the recession. Simply put, the cost of fitting pollution equipment or getting a new vehicle would have come as punch in the ribs to those who need our help at this time, would have destroyed profit margins, and endangered our businesses."
The Green party on the London assembly described the move as the height of irresponsibility and "an absolute disaster for London's environment".
Darren Johnson, a Green assembly member, said: "The mayor is talking green while condemning Londoners to more premature deaths and more pollution.
"Substandard air quality in the capital already results in around 1,000 premature deaths per year. For the past 10 ten years, the government has failed to take proper action, resulting in Britain's air quality sinking to illegal levels. The extension of the low emission zone to tens of thousands of vans next year was going to be a huge step towards cleaning London's air. Nothing else that the mayor is proposing comes close to dealing with the problem."
He said the boroughs of Bexley, Brent, Ealing and Lambeth haved all exceeded air pollution limits set down by the EU.
The mayor's office nevertheless insisted that Johnson was committed to improving air quality in the capital.
He is in talks with the government on a package of measures to help London meet EU emission targets, including a subsidy scheme for replacing the oldest, most polluting light goods vehicles.
John Biggs, the deputy leader of the London assembly's Labour group, said "wheezy children and older people" in London suffering from poor air quality would not thank the mayor for today's decision.
Biggs said: "It looks like a retrograde step for London's health, but I would have to look at the small print."
Mike Tuffrey, the leader of the Lib Dems on the assembly, branded Johnson's decision "perverse and very disturbing".
He said: "I recognise the concerns of small businesses, but instead of dropping new air quality standards we should be providing practical help to enable them to make the changes at minimum cost. Only two weeks ago David Cameron was stating that 'we can't afford not to go green' as a successful economy and clean environment ultimately go hand in hand. Clearly Boris Johnson has still not got this message."
Johnson's intention to remove the third phase of the low emission zone will be the subject of a 12-week public consultation scheduled for later this year. Transport for London will also need to consult on the necessary changes to the scheme.
The decision comes a week after the European commission launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to meet EU air quality targets.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017