Sadiq Khan Plans Your Life

If you live in London, you should pay attention to the “London Plan” that Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently published. Indeed if you live in other large conurbations you might wish to review it also because the policies he is promoting might spread elsewhere.

What’s the London Plan? It’s a document that sets the “spatial development” strategy for London over the next few years and has legal implications for planning developments, housing construction, transport infrastructure, and many other aspects of our lives.

The Mayor makes it plain that London needs to cope with the rapidly expanding population and business activity. The population of London might reach 10.5 million by 2041 he says (currently 8.8 million). That means a lot more houses have to be built (66,000 per annum he says) and support for more workplaces.

In addition it has major implications for transport infrastructure while at the same time he wants to clean up London’s air. He wants to make London a “zero carbon” city by 2050, although no doubt he will be long gone by then. As part of this he aims to reduce “car dependency” (an emotive and inaccurate phrase disparaging people who have made a rational or personal choice about how they travel when you don’t see this said about those who rely on cycles for their daily travel needs).

Why has the population of London grown so rapidly in recent years and continues to do so? Page 12 of the Plan explains why. It says 40 per cent of Londoners were born outside the UK, and the city is now home to 1 million EU citizens, no doubt attracted by the vibrant London economy. This has put a major strain on housing, transport, social services and other infrastructure (incidentally an unbelievable 1.2 million Londoners are apparently “disabled”).

This state of affairs has come about because of national policies on immigration with no effective policies to distribute that more widely across the country compounded no doubt by a desire by some politicians to improve their chances of being elected.

Specifically looking at transport, the Mayor’s target is for 80% of all journeys to be made by walking, cycling and public transport (that of course includes the 14% of Londoners who are disabled!). It’s currently 64%. This is going to mean an aggressive set of policies to reduce car use – hence our campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy which supports the London Plan – see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

The Mayor highlights the health inequalities in London, with deprived areas of London having reduced life expectancies (as much as 15 years for men and 19 years for women) surely an astonishing statistic. What is the reason for this? Poor housing conditions are certainly one, but lack of daily activity is allegedly another so the Mayor wants us all to be walking and cycling.

The Mayor does have plans to improve public transport including proposals for Crossrail 2 and extension of the Bakerloo line but these proposals will do relatively little to soak up the increased demand, and with no proposals of significance to improve the road network, hence no doubt the need to encourage us all to walk or cycle.

The Mayor’s plans to support the need for more housing include targets for every London borough (for example over 2,000 new homes every year in Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Greenwich, Hounslow, Newham, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets). This includes high concentration developments in locations with good public transport access levels (PTALs), particularly inner London boroughs. Outer London boroughs might see a relaxation of planning regulations to allow more “in-fill” developments including building on back gardens as the Conservatives promptly complained about. There will be more encouragement for smaller builders, more efficient building techniques and “proactive” intervention in London’s land market (more “compulsory purchase” perhaps).

One aspect of transport infrastructure that the London Plan covers is that of parking provision for new housing, office or shop developments. It wants most developments to be “car free” (i.e. no parking provision), particularly those with high PTAL levels. The details of what this means in practice are not clear, but it looks like the intention is to reduce parking provision substantially, thus resulting in more on-street parking and obstruction.

The Mayor concludes his near 500-page tome on the subject of the “Funding Gap”. By this he means the gap between the public sector funding required to support London’s growth (and his plans) and the money currently committed. In other words, he wants more money, including a bigger share of taxation collected from Londoners. For example, he repeats his call for control of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) which any right-thinking person should surely oppose. Yes the Mayor wants more money and more power. Unfortunately the establishment of directly elected Mayors such as Mr Khan has resulted in empire building of the worst kind. They are effectively dictators within their realms with no effective democratic constraints on their policies and negligible public accountability.

In summary, it is not clear that the building of lots of new homes (which of course will emit more pollutants, particularly during constructions, more than offsetting any reduction from restraining car use), of a fairly low standard in dense conurbations, is going to improve the quality of life for Londoners. It is undoubtedly the case that more new homes are needed in London but building new homes without complementary improvements to the transport infrastructure, which has consistently lagged behind the growth in London’s population, does not make much sense.

As is already seen in the statistics, older London residents are moving out and being replaced by immigrants. Some readers might wish to consider doing the same given the outlook for the quality of life in London. Simply reacting to the population growth in London without trying to constrain it, or divert it elsewhere, is surely a mistake.

You can submit your comments on the London Plan to the public consultation by going here: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/london-plan/new-london-plan/comment-draft-london-plan . Please be sure to do so.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Cycle Superhighways and Motorbikes

Here’s a letter received from a resident of south-east London which is worth repeating:

Hi,

I’m thankful I’m retired now, and only have to visit London when I choose to.

I used to commute by motorbike and that (for the time being) is still my preferred method of transport. I always perceived motorbikes as being virtually negligible in their contribution to congestion and/or pollution, and never thought of them as ‘bothering’ anyone. It actually disgusts me that TfL see them very differently, with the same disdain they apply to any other type of motorised vehicle.

Their pro-cyclist / anti-anything with an engine stance is now going beyond ‘psychotic’ – their latest mailshot was about how they propose to redesign Lower Road / Jamaica Road (which aren’t short of cycle lanes as they are) into yet another Cycling Superhighway, with a whole “boulevard” for them and – consequently – a whole lot LESS space for ‘everybody else’ Never mind the disruption or the cost: it’s so easy to play easy with budgets when they’re using other people’s money to do it!

I actually do count myself lucky to be retired. Where I take myself now (and it usually involves my wallet) is my own choice, and there’s coming a time soon when it won’t be London.

The problem with TfL, unfortunately, is that they’re not just wrecking the road network out of ‘necessity’… they’re actually taking a sneaky pleasure from doing it!”

Roger Wood

<ENDS>

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Panicking Londoners: Consultation on ULEZ Extension

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced today a consultation on the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to within the North/South Circular in 2021. Any vehicle that does not meet the required emission standard will be required to pay a charge of £12.50 for cars/vans in addition to any central London Congestion Charge that might also apply. Cars and vans will need to meet the Euro 6 standard for diesels and Euro 4 standard for petrol vehicles.

In addition motorcycles will be in included in the above and the ULEZ tighter emission standards will apply to the whole of London from October 2020 for heavy vehicles (buses, coaches, lorries and other specialist vehicles).

The announcement was launched with the following claims from Alex Williams of Transport for London: “Right now, air pollution in London is a public health crisis…….filthy air contributes to thousands of early deaths each year in London, and impacts our health over the course of our lives, leading to decreased lung function in our children, and greater risk of dementia and stroke when we get older.

This is scaremongering of the worst kind. The claim relating to deaths is an exaggeration and the claims about dementia and stroke are disputed by some authorities. In any case these are often based on epidemiological studies and results from such research may simply reflect the fact that those who live in poor inner-city neighbourhoods lead unhealthy life styles.

Even the suggested reduction in air pollution from these new taxes are only expected to have any impact in the next few years and by 2030 the benefit will have disappeared anyway. So very high short- term costs are being imposed on many vehicle owners as they will need to change their cars/vans unnecessarily.

I commented about claims that air pollution is causing an epidemic of asthma in a previous blog post here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/does-air-pollution-in-london-cause-asthma/ . It’s basically nonsense.

London’s air, and the vehicles which drive in London, have been getting cleaner and that will rapidly progress as vehicles are replaced without this expensive scheme (of which the Mayor is refusing to disclose the costs). Where is the cost/benefit justification? There is none.

The Mayor claims that London’s air is “lethal” but that is simply not true. Sadiq Khan is now not just scaring children and dragging them into his politicking, but now is attempting to disconcert the elderly who might be worried about the diseases of age. It’s simply unprincipled. To say there is a “public health crisis” is just wrong. Londoners are living longer and there is no evidence that air pollution is shortening the lives of Londoners to any measurable extent.

Make sure you go here to respond to the public consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/environment/air-quality-consultation-phase-3b/?cid=airquality-consultation

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Does Air Pollution in London Cause Asthma?

One response to the ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is that we should not oppose it because it might stop their kids getting asthma. Children have been widely used in Sadiq Khan’s publicity over his plans to reduce air pollution and there is a strong emphasis in the Transport Strategy on the potential environmental benefits. But unfortunately, a lot of the arguments put forward are simplistic and show little understanding of the causes and prevalence of asthma.

Like the Mayor, this writer has suffered from asthma, so I have a personal interest in this issue. Note also that the ABD does not oppose cleaning up London’s air because one does not need a scientist to tell you that air quality in central London, and in some outer London “hot spots”, is appalling bad and not just makes walking or cycling unpleasant but probably exacerbates some medical conditions (including pre-existing asthma of course). The ABD’s opposition to the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is based on other factors and the irrational, ineffective and uneconomic approach to the environmental issues.

Let’s cover some of the basics about asthma:

  • Does air pollution cause asthma (in children or others)? As far back as 1995, a Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) looked at this issue and came to the conclusion that although air pollution may provoke asthma attacks or aggravate existing chronic disease, the effect is generally small with other factors such as viruses, cigarette smoke, diet and house dust-mite droppings more important. They also noted that there had been a general increase in asthma in the last 30 years so it was now a very common disease. Was this down to more urbanisation and are city dwellers more likely to suffer from it because of air pollution? The answer is no. Indeed, a study in the Isle of Skye, where air pollution was believed to be minimal, showed as high a prevalence of asthma as anywhere else. See this report in The Independent for more information: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/air-pollution-is-not-the-cause-of-asthma-epidemic-1578437.html . Very heavy air pollution may reduce lung function in children according to more recent studies, but it is not the cause of the asthma epidemic in the last 50 years.
  • Why are allergies, that drive asthma, more common? There have been many possible causes put forward for this. It seems to relate to the exposure of very young children, or their mothers, that condition the immune system to over-react. For example, it has been argued that excessively clean houses are one cause. Smoking by mothers, or in houses, may have been another cause. Or a general increase in pollutants in the home. As we reported in the ABD London newsletter in June 2017, the concentration of some air pollutants can be five times higher indoors than outdoors. This is due to gas stoves, food cooking, dog/cat hairs, dead skin, lint particles from tumble dryers, deodorant spays, scented candles and air fresheners. The desire to minimise heat loss from homes, and reduce drafts (and hence fresh air) along with smaller homes might have contributed to these problems. Obesity is also a factor in asthma risk and we all know that has been rising. 
  • Are diesel vehicles a cause of worse air pollution and asthma? Diesel vehicles became popular for cars, and always have been for HGVs and buses, because of reduced fuel consumption and a desire to minimise carbon emissions. However that did not take account of the large emissions of NOX and particulates from such vehicles. But removing all diesel vehicles would not likely have much impact on overall air pollution levels in London. The reason is that much of the air pollution is from other sources such as home/office heating, industrial activities, or simply blown in from the countryside around. Even with vehicles, much of the particulates come from tyre and brake wear so converting all vehicles to electric ones will only reduce the emissions, not eliminate them. And removing private cars will have minimal impact when taxis, PHVs, LGVs, and HGVs continue to increase in number and are much bigger sources, as are trains, planes, river traffic and other transport modes. To reduce air pollution needs a much more “holistic” approach rather than focussing on one or two perceived evils alone. It seems very unlikely that attacks on diesel vehicles will have much impact on the causes or prevalence of asthma in any sensible timescale and the latest diesel vehicles are now very clean.

The above is a simplification of a very complex topic, but I hope it explains some of the key points. Does Mayor Sadiq Khan believe he is doing good by his aggressive environmental policies that will get us all walking and cycling (other than the disabled presumably)? Is he simply ignorant of the real issues? Or is he promoting these policies for other reasons, such as the financial problems of Transport for London, his desire to raise more funds and his desire to be seen as “doing good” to help his re-election?

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that although asthma has become a lot more prevalent, the medical treatments for the disease are now quite effective in other than the worse cases. Certainly, much better than when I was a child. The high prevalence of asthma in the UK has been given as one reason why the UK became a centre for the medical research into treatments. But it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that asthma levels have increased.

My conclusion is that cleaning up London’s air might make it a more pleasant place to live and work, but it won’t have much impact on the prevalence of asthma.

Incidentally a great article on the scare-mongering associated with air pollution is present here: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/claims-of-40000-deaths-from-air-pollution-debunked-by-death-statistics/

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Bank Junction Closure – Make Sure You Object

I was in the City of London last week, and walked through the Bank Junction area, as I often do. It was very clear that the “experimental” closure of that junction to all traffic except buses and cyclists during the hours of 7.00 am to 7.00 pm had certainly reduced the volume of traffic. But it was also obvious that some vehicle drivers were still not aware of the restriction (and the fines they will collect) as I reported back in May (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/bank-junction-closed-to-most-traffic/ ).

This junction is of course the central hub of the road network in the City so closing it was bound to disrupt the network and cause congestion elsewhere. For example, it has noticeably worsened traffic congestion on the alternative routes such as Cannon Street and Gracechurch Street/Bishopsgate. These were already badly congested before this experiment was implemented but now you often get stationary traffic for much of the day. And that includes buses resulting in appalling bad air pollution.

This closure also causes major problems for delivery drivers and taxi drivers. A representative of The NED Hotel has contacted me about their difficulties. This is a new luxury hotel which recently opened on Poultry very close to the junction. The front entrance cannot even be reached by taxis without incurring a fine. Although there is a rear entrance, visitors obviously have great difficulties persuading taxi drivers or other vehicles such as PHVs (minicabs) to go anywhere near the location. They probably would not have opened the hotel if they had known the roads around Bank would be closed.

Comment: A large proportion of the accidents and casualties, which this closure was aimed to reduce, are caused by pedestrians stepping into the road without looking. It is undoubtedly the case that with rising numbers of pedestrians in this location, and with pavements that are too narrow, it would make sense to redesign this junction. In addition, the traffic congestion that existed before this scheme was introduced caused high air pollution. A better solution would be to reduce the complexity of the junction so as to smooth traffic flows.

The City of London Corporation is looking at some longer-term options for this junction, although they are all very expensive. These include:

  • Closure to motor vehicles on the North/South Axis (King William Street/Princes Street).
  • Closure on the East/West Axis (Poultry, Queen Victoria St, Cornhill, Threadneedle Street)
  • Closure on Cornhill and Poultry.
  • A reduction in available capacity, perhaps by use of a “shared space” scheme.

It is not clear why those roads are proposed for closure rather than say Victoria Street, Lombard Street and Threadneedle Street. But reducing the number of roads feeding into the junction is clearly a priority to simplify the junction and increase the pedestrian space. A shared space scheme may be a viable option and the ABD has no objections to such schemes so long as they are carefully and well designed, which sometimes they are not. At present pedestrians in the area take little notice of formal crossing points so reflecting that in the road design may make sense.

In summary, we would support development of solutions that ensure that this junction remains a key and useable part of the road network. In other words, not just a “place” as the transport planners might desire. It is simply not acceptable to corrupt and damage the road network in the way currently happening.

There is a public consultation being undertaken on the current experimental scheme. Please go here for more information and to respond to it: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/transport-and-streets/traffic-management/Pages/Bank-On-Safety.aspx

You need to do that before the 24th November so do it now!

Postscript: The City of London Corporation have published an initial report on the closure of Bank junction to most traffic, here are some more comments having read the report entitled “Update on Monitoring” authored by Gillian Howard:

  1. From Figure 3 in the report it is obvious that although the number of infringers dropped from the initial level, it has now stabilised and is still running at around 4,000 per week, i.e. 800 per working day. This is obviously an unacceptable level and indicates that either the restriction is inadequately signed or that drivers simply do not expect to meet such a restriction. One problem is that SatNav systems may not be updated for many months if not years and in the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people are likely to be issued with fines for contraventions every year. This is simply unacceptable.
  2. As regards the initial collision data, although this shows a reduction (which it should do because of the reduction in traffic volumes), to try and interpret such data over such a short period of time after a change in the road layout would be inappropriate. Any road safety expert knows that after a road layout change, the immediate result tends to be a reduction in accidents for a few months but that often the change disappears over time as drivers become familiar with the new layout and revert to old habits. That is why 3-year before and after data is normally used to identify any real impact.
  3. One very unsatisfactory aspect of the reported data is that no information on traffic volumes through the junction is reported (before and after) so one could examine whether the change in accident figures is due solely to removing traffic or not.
  4. The report also refers to meeting the “success criteria”. But these have clearly been chosen to ensure that the outcome is beneficial. Nowhere in the criteria is the need to maintain a viable road network for all traffic on what is a key junction in the road network. Nor is there any criteria to minimise the additional journey times imposed on all traffic. This is clearly a biased approach to judging the merits of this change to the road layout.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Mayor Pushes Ahead With ULEZ

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced today that he is definitely going ahead with the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London from 2019, i.e. he is bringing forward the original planned date based on the results of his last consultation.

This will cover any vehicle that enters the existing Congestion Charge zone and will operate seven days per week, 24 hours a day, unlike the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). The additional charge will be £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes that do not meet defined emission standards, or £100 per day for lorries, buses and coaches.

Diesel cars that do not meet the Euro 6 standard, which means most of them that will be more than 4 years old in 2019, will need to pay the additional charge – making it cost as much as £22.50 to drive into central London. Petrol cars will only have to meet the Euro 4 standard so even older such vehicles may be OK. Go to this web page to check your vehicle: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/check-your-vehicle?intcmp=32646

The ULEZ will replace the “T-Charge” on older vehicles which came into force in October this year.

The Mayor is also introducing a “particulate matter standard” to the ULEZ standards bearing in mind recent concerns about that kind of air pollution. It is not clear how that will work as it suggests that vehicles that comply with the Euro standards might fail on other grounds.

Bearing in mind that the ULEZ may be extended across a wider area (for example to the North/South circular), it seems likely that not many London residents will be buying diesel cars in future as emissions standards tighten, and more will buy electric vehicles.

The consultation responses (over 18,000 in total) showed 72% of the general public support the principle of a ULEZ, with only 21% opposed. But for those who drive within central London, 65% were opposed. Some 52% of drivers were also opposed to bringing forward the ULEZ to 2019. The ABD was one of only three stakeholder groups who opposed the ULEZ.

The Mayor also makes a pitch for a national vehicle scrappage scheme, a new Clean Air Act, changes to VED, and more money for City Hall in his press release.

Will the announced measures reduce air pollution? Probably although these are improving anyway as older vehicles are scrapped and replaced. But the main culprits as regards pollution were and are HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis. Imposing such draconian standards on cars and even motorbikes 24×7 is not a cost-effective solution. The fact that the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have failed to provide any cost/benefit justification, nor even any of the budget costs of the scheme in response to an FOI Act request just tells you one thing. This scheme is as much about making money for the Major’s coffers as improving air pollution. This was also reflected in the consultation comments “written in” where 5% of respondents suggested it was a tax/revenue raising scheme for TfL.

But there were very few comments in support of extending the ULEZ boundary. Only 1% supported extending it to the North/South Circular. Let us hope that kills off that idea which would impose a major financial burden on many more London residents.

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Should a Value Be Placed on a Life, re Croydon 20MPH?

The scheme to implement a wide area, signed-only 20 Mph speed limit in the London Borough of Croydon has been covered in past articles (see the ABD’s campaign page here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/croydon20.htm ). The scheme will cost over £1 million and there have been lots of objections from local residents and the ABD. But Councillors have pushed it through regardless.

It is now the subject of a Judicial Review over the defective consultation process. In addition, I made a complaint to Croydon Council about that in June, and after an initial brush off have had a final response from Jo Negrini, their CEO. She ignored my arguments about the lack of proper cost/benefit justification and lack of provision of the likely benefits in the consultation documents. She simply argued that a value cannot be placed on a life.

This is an extract from my response: “you say (on page 3) that “the report emphasises several times that a value cannot be placed on a life and therefore the benefit of preventing, even a single fatality, cannot be said not to represent value for money to the public”. You use that statement to justify the fact that no proper cost/benefit analysis was done, or the benefit of the scheme put to councillors before they made a decision to proceed.

Such a statement just shows how ignorant you are on road safety matters and the decision-making process used on public schemes (or perhaps you are not so ignorant and are just using this as a poor excuse). A value is placed on a life everyday when evaluating public expenditure. That is for the simple reason that when comparing projects, or looking at where limited cash resources are spent (and as Theresa May recently said: “there is no magic money tree”), it is rational to choose the most cost-effective projects in which to invest. By so doing, the most lives are saved.

The problem with the Croydon 20 wide area scheme is that an enormous amount of money has been spent, that could have been better spent on other road safety projects. And hence saved more lives!

Valuing lives may be seen as somewhat hard-nosed for those who do not have any scientific background, or have not been schooled in how to make rational decisions, but it is how road safety schemes normally are, and should be evaluated.”

This unfortunately is a very good example of the poor quality of local authority decision making in not just London but the UK as a whole. Uneducated and ill-informed councillors make policy decisions that their executive staff are expected to justify and implement. But good council officers should tell the truth and stand up for what is right.

Simillarly the Mayor of London has caught this bug. So he went ahead with the London “T-Charge” this week despite being advised that it would not show any significant benefit in terms of reduced air pollution. It has just imposed enormous costs on one of the poorest sections of the community (those who drive very old cars), but the Mayor thinks it makes for good headlines. Just line up some young schoolchildren for a photo-shoot (a very dubioius practice) and explain this is one step to fixing air pollution problems in London. It makes for great publicity, and helps the Mayor to raise more in taxes under the guise of public health! Great politics if you can fool the public for long enough.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London