London considering car-free days in bid to tackle air pollution

City Hall sources say mayor is hoping to introduce separate car-free days in each borough this year, with ‘more ambitious plans’ for 2019

London is considering introducing car-free days in an attempt to tackle the city’s air pollution crisis that experts say is responsible for thousands of early deaths each year.

Officials at City Hall were due to meet on Tuesday to examine how best to roll out a ban across specific areas of the capital on different days this year - with “more ambitious plans” in the pipeline for 2019.

A spokeswoman for the mayor, Sadiq Khan, said: “[He] is determined to do everything in his power to protect the health of Londoners and prioritise walking, cycling and public transport and reduce Londoners’ dependency on polluting cars.”

A source at City Hall said details were still being hammered out but they were hoping to introduce separate car-free days in each London borough this year, with the potential for city-wide car-free days next year.

“The mayor already supports a number of car-restricted days for annual events in London, and he has asked City Hall officials to consider additional opportunities for car-free activities as part of his healthy streets vision,” said a spokesman.

“Tackling toxic emissions from the most polluting vehicles is a core part of the hard-hitting measures the mayor has introduced to help clean up London’s air, from delivering the Toxicity-Charge (T-Charge) in central London, to the early introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, and transforming the bus fleet.”

Cities around the world have turned to car-free days in the fight against air pollution and there has been a growing campaign for London to follow suit.

Bridget Fox, from Campaign for Better Transport, one of 50 organisations which wrote to Khan to call on him to sign up to a car-free day earlier this year, said “creating traffic free spaces, even for a day, transforms places for the better.”

“Car-free days are a great way to show the potential to cut traffic across London. We hope every community in the capital will be inspired to take part.”

Caroline Lucas the co-leader of the Green Party also welcomed the idea, but said the mayor’s recent decision to push ahead with the new £1bn Silvertown tunnel under the Thames undermined his efforts to tackle London’s poisonous air.

“These car-free days would be a significant step forward for London - but need to be part of a much better strategy that tackles pollution everywhere,” she said.

The move comes amid growing concern about the impact of the UK’s poisonous air that causes 40,000 early deaths a year.

Earlier this year an unprecedented joint inquiry by four committees of MPs described it as a “national health emergency”. In the report, the “super committee” was scathing about the government’s clean air plans which have been judged illegal three times in the high court. The latest proposal, rejected by the high court earlier this year, was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.

London’s air pollution crisis is responsible for 9,000 early deaths each year. Its scale was laid bare last year with new figures showing that every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles.

The findings, described as “sickening” by Khan, have serious health implications – especially for children – with both short- and long-term exposure to these particulates increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Health experts say young people exposed to these toxic pollutants are more likely to grow up with reduced lung function and to develop asthma.


Matthew Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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