Sadiq Khan Popularity Falling Rapidly

According to a poll commissioned by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and published a week ago, London Mayor Sadig Khan’s popularity has dropped dramatically. In March 2017, he had a net positive satisfaction rating of +35 which is quite exceptional but that has disappeared. Overall the rating is still positive, but only just. Now only 44% think he is doing well versus 40% who say he is doing badly. The Mayor’s rating is now negative among working-class Londoners, the over-50s and those in Outer London.

What is the reason for this decline? It seems likely that the ABD’s campaign on the Mayor’s Transport policies (see https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm ) is having an impact as we continue to deliver hundreds of thousands of leaflets across London. The Mayor’s policies such as the ULEZ will particularly affect those groups where his rating has been declining most sharply. Folks are waking up to the Mayor’s attack on all forms of private transport – not just cars but motorcycles, PHVs (minicabs) and taxis and the costs that they will incur as a result.

Other contributions have probably been his mismanagement of Transport for London’s budget which is heading for a massive deficit and has been focussed on by some politicians, and his record on tackling rising crime levels in London has also been criticised. Similarly, his record on housing is no better than his predecessor and very different to what he promised. His promise to freeze public transport fares and improve public transport which he made to get elected have been shown to be mistakes or unachievable. Surely the apt quotation here is “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time” (Abraham Lincoln). Voters are now becoming disillusioned with the Mayor as he is seen to be good at rhetoric and photoshoots with children but bad at actually managing the metropolis.

London needs a Mayor who does not just spout fine words, but can actually tackle London’s problems and get them solved.

Roger Lawson

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Joy Morrisey has the Right Ideas

Joy Morrisey is on the Conservative short list to contest the next Mayoral election in London. She wrote an article for City AM last week (4/9/2018) that echoes much of what the ABD has been saying about transport in London.

Firstly she attacked Sadiq Khan’s record on transport and the ballooning deficit in Transport for London (TfL). She suggests it is a priority to get operating costs under control and that a fresh approach is needed. Here’s an extract of what else she had to say:

“At present, it is not always clear what the current mayor’s plans are – “plans” would suggest that real thought had gone into the mistakes he keeps making and the promises he keeps breaking. But we can see the policies: Khan is trying to force motorists off the road, while squeezing as much money as possible out of those who need to drive.

The mayor’s intention to extend the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) all the way out to the North and South Circulars in 2021 is a case in point.

Consider a family who live just outside the zone, who cannot afford to replace their old car, which they need to drive their kids to a school just inside the zone. They would pay £12.50 a day under Khan’s scheme. A pensioner who has to drive himself to, for example, Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone would pay the same.

It gets worse. The cost of the infrastructure needed to cover this expanded area has been estimated at £780m.

That’s money that should be spent on genuinely improving London’s air quality. For example, £600m would pay for the replacement of 2,000 diesel buses with hybrid vehicles, which emit nearly 80 per cent less nitrogen dioxide.

We need to make it easier for Londoners to leave their car at home, but without punishing those who do drive for making an entirely rational and reasonable choice.

If I became mayor in 2020, I would scrap Khan’s unfair and ill-considered ULEZ expansion, and focus on more effective ways to improve both air quality and transport options in the capital, for all Londoners.

Londoners cannot afford another four years of a mayor guided by cheap headlines and misplaced ideology. Right now, we might be hopelessly lost on our journey towards better transport, but under a different mayor, London can find its direction again.”

All very sensible policies and surely a good basis for an election winning campaign. Let’s hope that she wins the nomination. The other candidates are Andrew Boff and Shaun Bailey

The full City AM article can be read here: http://dev2.cityam.com/262379/london-needs-new-mayor-get-transport-show-back-road . Why not add your own comments?

Let the best man/woman win. But more than one candidate suggests the Mayor needs more powers. Surely it’s more a case of Sadiq Khan not using the powers he already has effectively to improve the transport network, control crime, build more houses and improve the environment.

Roger Lawson

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More on Air Pollution from the BBC and Closure of Beech Street

The latest piece of air pollution propaganda from the BBC was a television report that air pollution may affect your brain. This was based on a recently published Chinese study that long-term exposure to air pollution “could be linked to cognitive performance” (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45326598 for the written version of the BBC’s report).

As is common with air pollution studies, this is based on an epidemiological study that showed that people who have lived in heavily polluted areas for a long time show less cognitive function on simple tests of math and verbal skills. It also suggests that there are differences in the impact between sex, age and education of the study participants which seems unexpected but they explain that as being affecting mostly men who have worked outside for long periods. The study was done in China where air pollution is of course a serious problem – for example Beijing has much worse air pollution that western cities such as London. The paper was published by the US National Academy of Sciences.

There is of course no evidence linking the possible causes to the effect and it could simply be that the selected participants suffer from the work they did, or the lack of mental exercise they took (cognitive functions decline if not used).

In summary, the scientific paper is just that and it is wrong to extrapolate it to suggest people in London or other cities are likely to be affected. Or is the report explained by BBC reporters spending too much time standing on College Green near Parliament Square, where they like to do interviews, and breathing in too much hot air? It certainly seems to be the case that talking about air pollution too much damages your brain.

Beech Street Closure

The City of London Corporation is still keen to tackle the problem of air pollution in Beech Street – this is the road that runs underneath the Barbican in a tunnel and is a key east-west route within the City. The only other alternative routes are via Old Street or City Wall which are both heavily congested. But Beech Street is one of the most heavily polluted roads in London for NOX emissions.

There are several options being considered. That includes restricting the road to Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) only, closing the road in both directions (but leaving access to the Barbican car parks) or just closing in the East-West or West-East directions. Traffic modelling of the possible closures is being considered but it would require building a large new model of traffic flows.

But the impact of a full closure is already known because in March 2018 the road was closed for 5 days. Average journey times on the roads north and south of Beech Street increased by 23%.

The report on this subject which is being considered by Corporation Committees in early September notes the likely objections from many City business and residents to any closure though.

Comment: It would be unfortunate if yet another key road in the City is closed to traffic. The road network in the City of London has been degraded substantially in recent years by road closures such as that of Bank Junction. Could the air pollution in Beech Street not be tackled by a forced ventilation system? But there is no mention of that being considered in the Corporation’s report.

Roger Lawson

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Fighting For Air – Another Piece of Air Pollution Propaganda from the BBC

Last night the BBC broadcast a programme on air pollution entitled Fighting for Air (BBC2 on 19/8/2018). It was presented by Dr. Xand van Tulleken in a populist and dramatic style.

He first did a simple test by “cleansing” his system by donning a chemical weapons suit followed by 3 hours of deliberately breathing in traffic fumes. He did blood pressure tests, analysed blood composition and checked for brain function before and after. This unscientific and uncontrolled test apparently showed a slight increase in blood pressure and blood clotting and possibly a very small change in cognitive function. No actual data was given. Bearing in mind that such tests as blood pressure can vary significantly from hour to hour, and the other tests likewise, this proves nothing at all. Note that there have been a number of scientific studies of a possible link between blood coagulation and air pollution but no clear conclusions about which pollutants are relevant and no specific link to heart disease or stroke risk identified. That did not stop Dr van Tulleken alleging such a link.

He then moved to Kings Heath High Street near Birmingham. This road exceeds national legal limits for NOX apparently by a small amount at some times. It is used by a large number of diesel buses (no hybrids or electrics), and by significant numbers of HGVs. Traffic is stop/start with high congestion because of traffic lights that are not linked and road side parking as people move in and out of the parking spaces.

Dr van Tulleken persuaded the local council to suspend the parking bays for a day (filled with bay trees instead) and to synchronise the traffic flights to provide a “green wave” and he also persuaded the bus company to offer free tickets. The result was the volume of traffic remained the same, but NO2 fell by 10%. It is not clear to what extent any adjustment was made for other factors such as weather changes although mention was made that the changes were measured against wider area changes.

Local shopkeepers were not happy particularly a butcher who had traded in the road for 50 years.

Comment: In summary all this programme showed is that smoothing traffic flows may significantly reduce some emissions from vehicles. We already knew that, for example from studies of speed hump schemes. Replacing road side parking by off-street parking is clearly something that councils should look at. I only wish that removing such parking be done in my local High Street (Chislehurst in the London Borough of Bromley) which has been proposed in the past but never progressed (there is already plenty of off-street parking). It would both reduce the air pollution and reduce congestion by improving the flow of traffic.

What the programme did not demonstrate was that air pollution is a major health hazard or a public health emergency as the Doctor disclaimed. Indeed the High Street Butcher demonstrated how much cleaner his shop is than it used to be suggesting particulate emissions were lower than a few years ago.

In conclusion, another disappointing and hysterical programme on air pollution rather than a truly balanced study of the issues.

Roger Lawson

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Ealing’s Hypocrisy over its Controlled Parking Zones

Ealing Council is the latest London local authority to announce plans to charge residents living in Controlled Parking Zones a sliding scale of permit prices based on CO2 emissions, a move that has provoked outrage across the borough.

The Labour administration, which increased its majority in May’s local elections, approved a new Transport Policy in June which will see most residents permit charges rise, some by as much as 60 per cent. Diesel owners will face an automatic £50 surcharge, while homes where more than one vehicle is registered will also see financial punishment. The Council estimates that its new scheme will raise an extra £700,000 a year on top of an already sizeable surplus from parking schemes.

Ealing Council says the aim is to reduce car usage among residents, a so-called ‘modal shift’ to ‘incentivise residents to use other, more sustainable modes of transport’. However, opponents of the scheme claim it is yet another stealth tax, and one that cannot be defended on environmental grounds since the Council is rolling out ‘shared use’ bays in CPZs across the borough to encourage commuters to drive in and park for just £4.50 a day.

Local resident Simon Hayes organised a petition calling for the Transport Strategy to be withdrawn and the proposed extension of shared use bays to be scrapped. More than 2,800 residents across the borough supported the petition but the demands were rejected by the Council at a meeting on July 24.

“This transport strategy is a total nonsense,” said Mr Hayes. “It is clearly a revenue raising exercise and there are two prongs to the fork they are poking in the eyes of every car owner in an Ealing CPZ. What makes it worse is Labour didn’t even campaign on this policy in May because they knew it would be a vote loser, but are simply imposing it without consultation”.

“The Council is punishing residents because they own a particular type of car which they may not be able to afford to change. We are told not to drive, but the council fails to recognise that most journeys residents make are essential, whether for work or family reasons or simply because alternative modes of transport just aren’t available. Many people in this borough are getting by and can ill-afford another financial burden.”

“But then the Council is actively encouraging non-residents to park in CPZs for just £4.50 a day. That’s almost the amount it costs to park for one hour in many of the borough’s car parks, so clearly it’s inadequate.”

“There will be no regulation of the vehicles that drive in, so even the most polluting commuter vehicle will be entitled to add to congestion and pollution without sanction. It will also cut the number of spaces available to residents, in roads where parking is already tight.”

Mr Hayes also challenged the Council’s claim that this transport strategy is pollution fighting measure. He said: “This will do nothing to tackle pollution problems in Ealing. It is targeted at a relatively small area of the borough, mainly central and south Ealing, Acton and Chiswick, which Labour itself has identified as the “affluent” areas.”

“There are no proposals to encourage ‘modal shift’ in the parts of the borough where CPZs are not in force. Those areas contribute equally, if not more, to pollution and congestion since they are often poorly served by public transport. There’s not even a proposal to encourage such a shift among those residents in CPZs who enjoy off-street parking and thus don’t pay for a permit.”

“The real causes of pollution in Ealing are the heavily used arterial routes, including the A40 and North Circular Road, running through it. Poor road layout and eternal roadworks create numerous pinch points that slow down traffic and increase the levels of pollution. Council leader Julian Bell – a notorious car-hater – starred in an online video last year alongside the A40 in Acton highlighting the pollution problems there. But even he can’t stick a toll booth on that road to charge the HGVs, vans and other far more polluting vehicles from passing through.”

Ealing Council has defended its policy and claims the law is on its side. Head of Legal Services, Helen Harris said: “I remain happy that Ealing Council’s Transport Strategy is lawful and in compliance with the legal principles set out in the Barnet case.  Revenue generation formed no part of the justification for the Strategy.”

Ms Harris has yet to respond to requests about the failure to consult residents on the proposed changes to the permit charges or the failure to consult on the expansion of the shared use bay schemes or the legal grounds on which it can impose a charge on certain residents but not others.

Mr Hayes has vowed to continue to fight the proposed plans.

He said: “There is a great deal of anger about this right across the borough. Even Labour voters are aghast at the arrogance of the Council. It may take a judicial review, but there is something seriously wrong if Council’s are allowed to set arbitrary taxes such as this without challenge. For too long now local authorities, particularly in London, have been allowed to get away with these stealth taxes. We’re all for improving air quality, but targeting only certain road users is the wrong way to go about this.”

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Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart?

Following the publication of a scientific paper analysing heart condition and the impact of air pollution, the national media immediately jumped to headlines such as “Low Levels of Air Pollution Linked to Changes in the Heart” as published by the BBC. Stories were typically illustrated with pictures of traffic jams, car exhaust and visible London air pollution. Calls to reduce legal maximum air pollution figures were added.

What does this scientific paper actually show? You can read it here: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.034856 . It’s a paper by Nay Aung et al. But here are some comments on it:

  1. The paper was published in the journal “Circulation”, a small distribution specialist scientific journal, It is based on information from the UK Biobank which contains medical information on thousands of volunteers who have in this case had heart scans.
  2. The study correlated the information from 3,920 individuals to air pollution data (specifically NO2 and PM2.5) where they lived from 2005-2010.
  3. The study concluded that after adjusting for numerous other factors such as demographics (age, sex, ethnicity), anthropometrics (height, body mass), socioeconomic factors (income, employment, educational status), cardiac risk factors and physical activity there was a positive correlation between minor changes to left ventricle (LV) mass and other heart changes to air pollution levels where the volunteers were resident.
  4. Such changes to a heart are known to precede heart disease.
  5. The paper’s authors therefore concluded that “our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution even in the setting of relatively low exposure levels”.

Are their conclusions justified beyond any doubt, and in particular are the popular media’s headlines justified? My conclusion is no. For example, like any epidemiological study it only provides a possible statistical association, not a direct cause. As Prof Kevin McConway commented on this paper (as reported by the BBC): “Heart disease is affected by a wide range of factors – smoking, drinking alcohol, diet, exercise, social position, and more. Suppose that people whose heart health is worse because of some of these factors are also more likely to live in places where air pollution is high. That could show up as a correlation between air pollution and heart disease, even if the pollution itself is having no direct effect on the heart”.

Another possible issue is that air pollution inside houses is known to often be many times worse than that in the most polluted streets. That pollution comes from cooking, new paint, fabrics, carpets, smoking by other residents, animal hair, etc. Lack of ventilation in houses and apartments can increase levels substantially so people who live close to noisy roads who never open their windows as a result may be particularly affected.

The report is open to attack on the detail of their statistical methods, and they also note that other similar studies did not provide the same evidence in all cases. In summary the overall evidence is quite weak. Neither does the report confirm that the minor changes noted to heart mass lead in this case to significant heart disease.

Their reference to “low exposure levels” may also be misleading because air pollution levels were not measured outside the volunteers’ houses or where they work. In addition the fact that the people studied were volunteers, i.e. were self-selected rather than being a randomised sample, could have biased the outcome even though lots of adjustments were made for possible confounding factors.

All the report really suggests is that more study should be undertaken of a possible effect. The conclusion drawn by some commentators that air pollution legal limits need to be reduced further is not substantiated by this report.

In the meantime, readers are advised not to live within a few metres of a busy road because it may be bad for your health. But that’s no surprise is it? Just living in a noisy environment is known to be very damaging to your health. High noise levels are correlated with cardiovascular disease according to the World Health Organisation. It seems it increases stress levels which has a negative impact on health.

What the Aung report does not do is justify even more aggressive attempts to reduce air pollution in cities such as London, where NOX and particulates are already falling after the mistaken support of more diesel vehicles by the Government. Road vehicles will soon no longer be a major contributor to air pollution in cities so more scaremongering of this ilk is not required.

The answer to the question posed in the headline of this article (“Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart”) is simply that it is “Not proven”.

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£50 to Drive into Westminster, and Superhighway Challenge?

The City of Westminster is proposing to impose a 50% surcharge borough-wide for parking of older diesel vehicles – those registered before 2015. It has already trialled such a scheme in Marylebone. On-street parking charges will rise therefore to £7.35 per hour in the West End.

The Times newspaper suggested that taking into account the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax), and the additional tax of £12.50 being imposed by the Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019, that will mean that driving into the area and parking for just a few hours will result in charges of over £50. That should deter the casual shoppers or business visitors unless they own newer lower emission vehicles.

There is likely to be a public consultation on this proposal so if you are affected by it keep an eye out for that. Westminster Council consultations are listed here: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/consultations

Cycle Superhighway Challenge

Westminster Council are pushing ahead with a legal challenge to Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) which runs through Swiss Cottage. A judicial review has been launched and will likely be heard in September. In the meantime, the street works which were due to start imminently have been put on hold. New Deputy Mayor of Transport Heidi Alexander called the Council’s move a “disgrace”. But why should not a local council challenge the typically unaccountable actions of Transport for London (TfL) if enough of their residents object? CS11 has been vigorously opposed by many people who live in North London. The basis of the council’s objections is that the current plans will increase congestion and air pollution.

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