Mayor’s Environment Strategy Misses the Point

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kham, has published his Environment Strategy. The executive summary talks about the “greening” of London with more trees, green roofs and walls to reduce energy demand, the encouragement of more walking and cycling to improve air quality and many other environmental improvements. But the report fails to mention the key problem. Namely that there are too many people in London.

It highlights that water supply is set to outstrip supply by 2020 and the city’s electricity infrastructure is approaching full capacity. Air pollution is also high but that’s not just from transport, albeit much of the transport emissions are generated by the goods vehicles and public transport vehicles required to serve the growing population. Non-road emissions such as from construction, the river or wood burning constitute half of emissions in London and are a growing issue – that’s what the Mayor says, but he has no solution to that other than to “work with the government and other partners”.

London’s population is growing rapidly and the more people there are, and the more businesses that provide employment and services to those people, the more energy and water are consumed and the more emissions generated. It also results in a sclerotic road transport network where no new capacity has been added for many years. But instead of tackling the root cause of the problem the Mayor is talking about planting more trees and providing more open spaces.

In summary, many of the Mayor’s proposals are worthy and may have minor impacts on the quality of life in London. Encouraging us all to drive zero emission electric vehicles by 2050 may help in some regards, although they will add a further heavy load on the already stretched electricity network, but the report fails to spot the elephant in the room and propose how to deal with it. Namely that there are too many people in too small an area of land. The densification of London, with more and more homes and other buildings to support the growing population, supported by a few more green parks will not tackle the fundamental problem.

More information on the Mayor’s Environment Strategy is present here: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/london-environment-strategy

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More on the ULEZ Expansion

Apart from the lack of any proper cost/benefit justification for the ULEZ expansion as I explained in my previous blog post on the subject (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/mayor-proceeds-with-expansion-of-ulez/), there are other very good reasons why you should see this as a very dangerous step.

As I have already pointed out, once the infrastructure is put in place for this scheme it will enable the Mayor to introduce congestion charging schemes in future over most of London. But there are lots of other possible negative scenarios.

You may say, I am not too concerned because I don’t drive an old diesel vehicle or I can afford to buy a new vehicle that is exempt. But once the Mayor obtains this power to obtain money from vehicle owners in London he can easily vary the rules so that everyone is paying a lot more money in taxes.

For example, he could claim that come 2022, the new ULEZ has proved to be less effective than expected in reducing air pollution. Indeed that is very likely to be the case. Or he might simply say that air pollution is still not good enough. He could justify charging all vehicle users accordingly, even the latest petrol and diesel vehicles. Indeed he could argue that even electric vehicles should be included as they generate particulates from brake and tyre wear. So it could be not just £12.50 per day for older diesel vehicles, but for everyone!

In addition as we saw with the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) this was initially set at £5 per day but is now £11.50, i.e. it’s more than doubled but has not proved any more effective. It now generates significant revenue for TfL above operating costs. So instead of the ULEZ charge being £12.50 it could soon be moved to £15, £20 or even £30 per day and for everyone.

Do you think that the Mayor and TfL have no such intention and have not even looked to the future prospects for this scheme? Think again. The ULEZ is being driven by the desire for more income by the Mayor. Follow the money as always in politics. Discouraging motor vehicles by high charges on everyone who owns one would be perfectly consistent with his objective, as stated in his Transport Strategy, to reduce car usage to a fraction of what it is at present.

A particularly sickening aspect of this matter is the involvement by the Mayor of very young schoolchildren to promote his policies and his politics. He announced the latest extension at Netley Primary School in Euston. This “photo opportunity” was covered by the national media extensively. But what do schoolchildren know about this subject? And why should their teachers be allowing this kind of politicking in their schools? Netley Primary School is close to the Marylebone Road, one of the most polluted roads in London, but even so this hardly justifies the involvement of young children. Mayor Sadiq Khan is a serial offender in this regard as he has done this previously. Children should not be used by politicians to promote their financial policies.

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Mayor Proceeds with Expansion of ULEZ

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that the proposed expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to within the North/South Circular will go ahead in 2021.

This will mean that it will cost you £12.50 per day (365 days per year and at all times) to drive within that area from 2021 if you drive an older car (roughly diesel cars/vans more than 6 years old in 2021 and petrol cars/vans more than 15 years old). There will also be heavy charges for non-compliant HGVs and buses. The only concessions the Mayor has made is for an extra 4 years for disabled vehicles and for charity minibuses. He claims “staunch support” for these proposals but only 56% of respondents to the consultation supported it – and that after a very biased consultation report.

In reality this scheme is a very expensive solution to cleaning up London’s air when not only is that happening already as older vehicles are scrapped, but there are also better alternatives. It imposes major costs on Londoners out of all proportion to the benefits. Read our previous blog post on this topic for more background: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/the-real-profits-from-the-ulez/ . In summary for a total cost of £516 million to London vehicle users, the health benefit is valued at £7.1 million over 5 years. This is surely one of the most ineffective uses of financial resources ever devised.

Not only that, the infrastructure to be put in place for this scheme will enable the Mayor to introduce congestion charging schemes in future over most of London. Will it be demolished once it is no longer needed as the vehicle fleet is modernised? Don’t bet on it.

Note that the ABD supports improvements to London’s air quality because there are certain locations where it is clearly a significant problem. Focussing on transport alone will not solve it though. Likewise penalising older diesel vehicle owners is not fair when they were bought in good faith and encouraged by Government aims to reduce CO2 emissions – and doing so will have only a minor impact. What we have is political posturing where the Mayor wants to be seen as doing something while he is fixing his budget problems at the same time by the money to be raised from the ULEZ. It’s an ignorant policy led by an ignorant politician.

More information in the Mayor’s Press Release here: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/ultra-low-emission-zone-to-expand .

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London Airport Expansion – Government Stops Prevaricating

It seems that the Government has decided to try and push ahead with a third runway at London Heathrow airport. It is likely to be voted upon in Parliament in the next few weeks which will provide some distraction from the Brexit debates. The plan is to double the airport’s capacity to cope with rising passenger and freight demand. However Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, said it would only go ahead if the UK’s air quality obligations could be met.

Apart from the hundreds of people whose homes will be demolished, there are many objectors to these plans from west London politicians and from others such as Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith. Residents of many areas of London are strongly opposed because of the increased noise and air pollution that are likely to result. Tory MPs have been promised a free vote on the issue, and it also seems unlikely that the Labour party will support it without reservations.

One major problem with this choice for airport expansion is that the new runway will be sited so that it crosses the existing M25. So that will have to be put in a tunnel. The increased road traffic going to and from the airport combined with the emissions from aircraft will make the area surrounding Heathrow one of the worse pollution hot spots in London – indeed it already is. So how will that be fixed? Perhaps by a local “congestion charge” no doubt.

If you wish to join the opposition to Heathrow expansion (as this writer did many years ago), why not support Hacan who have long opposed the noise from the airport? See http://hacan.org.uk/ where you can read more information on this issue.

It seems very odd to me that airport expansion has to be concentrated in the heavily populated south-east of the country. The unbelievable figure of 30% of the UK’s exports currently go through Heathrow. It’s the London-centric mentality of politicians and planners yet again. This will rise further if a third runway is built. No other nation has such a focus for centralising transport to such an extent in an already overcrowded part of the country so far as transport facilities are concerned. Freight and passenger traffic should be distributed across the country so that road traffic is minimised via the expansion of regional airports.

Roger Lawson

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Cycle Superhighways Brought in Too Quickly

London Transport Commissioner Mike Brown conceded at a recent LBC event that former London Mayor Boris Johnson pushed through implementation of the first cycle superhighways too rapidly. He said “I think it was ill-judged, it was too fast and ill thought through in the speed in which it was done which I’m afraid is the main downside of living in a democracy because people want to do things in their term”. In other words, Boris wished to get some implemented before he departed for higher things and pushed the plans through too quickly.

Mike Brown did say that he supported the superhighways which he suggested had reduced accidents to cyclists and expenditure on cycle schemes is still rising.

What was wrong with the cycle superhighways? They have increased congestion substantially – for example on a key east/west route along Upper/Lower Thames Street and the Embankment. Indeed cyclists have to now breath air on one of the most heavily polluted roads in London because of the air pollution from slow moving traffic and the fact that many buses and HGV/LGVs use that road. The extra journey times were forecast but the cost/benefit analysis or consideration of alternative routes were not properly considered. Motorists are as a result deeply unhappy. Other routes including some still being developed are causing opposition from road users because of the lack of thought in their design and the impact on traffic speed and congestion. Transport for London (TfL) still seem to prioritise the needs of cyclists over all other road users while spending enormous sums of money supporting them when very little is otherwise done to improve the road network.

But cyclists are also unhappy because of the poor design of some aspects of Cycle Superhighway 1 where there are junctions with other roads or it runs along main roads.

If more consideration had been given to the design of cycle superhighways, and their routing, all these problems could have been avoided.

Roger Lawson

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Speed Limits in London to be Reduced, and More Enforcement

Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated that speed limits on London’s roads are to be reduced. In addition, there will be more “enforcement” of the limits.

The London Assembly Transport Committee published a report a few months ago calling on Transport for London (TfL) to review the speed limits on all its roads in the capital. They believed this would encourage more walking and cycling.

In response to a letter from Conservative London Assembly member Steve O’Connell which raised concerns that the majority of drivers ignore 20mph speed limits, the Mayor said: “Lowering speeds is fundamental to reducing road danger and Transport for London (TfL) is actively developing a strategy to increase the number of communities which will benefit from 20mph speed limits and speed reductions”. The Mayor said he will be publishing an action plan this summer which will provide details on City Hall and TfL’s approach and timescales for implementing lower speeds, as well as what measures will be rolled out in order to enforce them and ensure compliance. The plans apparently included imposing 20-mph speed limits on TfL controlled roads, which are the main roads in London.

However GLA Conservatives have raised concerns over the speed limit proposals, saying: “The Transport for London road network or red routes are London’s arterial roads. Although they make up just five per cent of London’s roads they contain approximately 30 per cent of London’s traffic. Their purpose – and the reason that they are run by TfL rather than London’s boroughs – is to keep London and Londoners moving.”

Comment: they are right to raise concerns. This looks like a plan to make London’s road transport network even more sclerotic than it is at present. The London Assembly seem to believe that simply reducing speed limits will cut road casualties when that is unlikely to be the case. The reason why speed limits, particularly 20-mph ones, are often ignored is because drivers see no purpose in them on some roads at some times of day. Drivers object to having their intelligence about what is and is not a safe speed at which to drive undermined by limits that apply regardless of traffic, pedestrians presence, cyclists presence, weather conditions and all the other factors that affect at which speed it is safe to drive. Imposing the lowest common denominator of a speed limit set by token gestures rather than the speed limit sent in a scientific manner using the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic speed will not increase compliance.

Other News

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has resigned from the Labour party. That’s probably before he was thrown out for his comments on Hitler. Readers should be reminded that the declared car-hating Livingstone was the catalyst for the destruction of London’s road network and it has gone downhill ever since. From the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) imposed to reduce congestion which it has not done, to the creation of Transport for London as a body that promoted the wonders of public transport, cycling and walking to the prejudice of all private transport. In reality TfL is an enormous expensive bureaucracy that is now running a massive budget deficit. Mayor Sadiq Khan has simply taken up similar policies in his new Transport Strategy, for example with the ULEZ proposals which will impose enormous costs on Londoners for very little benefit. Like Livingstone he is a “populist” Mayor who panders to the electorate with promises to freeze London’s public transport fares, promises to fix air pollution, promises fix our health problems by encouraging walking and cycling, and other very expensive policies that won’t work with a growing and ageing population in London. But as in the case of Livingstone there are signs that the public are becoming disenchanted with his regime as they see the results of his policies.

Incidentally I happened to walk past Sadiq Khan on the streets of London recently. I had not realised how short he is which is not obvious from his TV appearances. He would make a good shoe-in for Rick Moranis in a remake of “Honey, I shrunk the kids” if you recall that popular film of the 1980s. To quote Mr Khan: “Although I’m 5ft 6 I’ve grown in relation to the ideas I’ve got and what I’m going to do”.

The City of London Corporation that covers the square mile in the business district is drawing up their Transport Strategy. They are holding several meetings on the 29th June and the 6th July to discuss the proposed “vision, aim and outcomes”. Anyone with an interest in the road network in the City may care to attend – it’s free. See https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/city-of-london-transport-strategy-briefing-tickets-46108726442

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Bank Junction Closure To Be Made Permanent?

Bank junction in the City of London has been closed to all but cyclists and buses for more than a year on an “experimental” basis. This was declared to be in the interests of road safety following the death of a cyclist a couple of years ago, and to reduce air pollution. The City of London Corporation have now issued a press release and report on the scheme – the latter can be found here in the Agenda Reports Pack: http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=19871&x=1

In summary, Corporation staff claim it has been a great success with casualties reducing by 52%, air pollution reducing and bus journey times improving. They also claim no major impact on surrounding roads and that three quarters of people responding to a consultation supported the scheme.

The ABD opposed the closure because this is a key hub in the City’s road network, and because there were many people who were not aware of the closure and ignored the signs. The latest detail data on that indicated 800 drivers per day were infringing with the result that they will get a £130 penalty fine (reduced to £65 if they pay promptly). That’s equivalent to £15 million per year in total.

We also suggested that the road junction be redesigned to improve safety at the junction and provide more pedestrian space. There were plans for a longer-term project to improve the junction but it looks like this has now been dropped as there is no mention of it.

What are the facts about this scheme? Firstly only 45% of respondents supported the scheme in the consultation without changes being made, i.e. THERE WAS NO OVERALL SUPPORT.

Journey times on alternative routes to avoid Bank Junction have been substantially increased in some cases. For example it now takes an extra 1 to 2 minutes along Cannon Street, a relatively short road.

Taxi drivers are particularly concerned by their inclusion in the ban, and they have problems with delivering people to some locations – for example the relatively new NED hotel just west of the junction.

As regards the road safety benefits, obviously if roads are closed then accidents are reduced. But as the traffic simply diverts to other roads, there may be no overall benefit. In addition there is always a temporary improvement in accident figures after road engineering work which is why a three year before and three year after analysis is usually considered best practice by road safety engineers. But in this case the City Corporation have not waited for the full results.

I spoke briefly on the LBC Nick Ferrari show about this proposal and questioned why the whole of the City was not closed to traffic as that would obviously improve road safety even more. If you think that is a good idea, then you are ignoring the needs of certain road users (including bus users), and the need to deliver goods and services to offices and shops in the City.

The report mentioned above will now be considered by a number of City Corporation Committees. Let us hope that some members have the sense to object.

Roger Lawson

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