In early May, the Mayor of London released a report intended to encourage cycling in the Capital. The campaign was launched with a flair, its illusionary theme climaxing with 70’s style posters of a woman cycling, wind blowing her long flowing hair, but not her flowery skirt. She was wearing the long smile that freedom and fresh air brings to ones lips. The campaign and the strategy are noticeably flawed for those of us who already cycle around London because it virtually ignores two crucial factors about cycling in the Capital –
- London has the worst air quality in all of Europe.
- Increasing occurences of cycling deaths in London
Coincidentally, the Mayor’s office also issued a draft strategy for improving London’s air quality called “Clearing the Air”. This strategy was prepared to win an extension on the time limit for compliance with air pollution limits imposed by the EU. London is far below the emissions level that has been set by the EU and has not been meeting the targets for emissions in its taxis and buses for at least the past five years, if not more. This year, London reached its 36th bad air day already in June , where there are only 35 days allowed per year according to the EU. If the Mayor doesn’t do something, there will be fines to pay and potential court cases.
Those of us who are really concerned by the fact that London has the worst air quality in Europe know that the Mayor’s draft strategy paper is not much of a stretch from the policies that have already been in place since 2004, when each borough was required to draft and implement Action Plans to tackle the problem. In essence, many of the proposals are adaptation related and not solution oriented. This is just not enough.
The most poisonous gases (NO2 and particulates PM2.5 and PM10) are primarily emitted by petrol diesel engines. Recent studies have concluded that these gases cause respiratory disease, asthma in children and contributed to almost 4,300 unnecessary deaths in London in 2008. The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and congestion charge was supposed to address this problem. However, based on studies conducted by Kings College, there is not real evidence that the LEZ has improved air quality in London at all.
Studies show that elevated pollution concentrations tend to stay on the road. In this instance, a cyclist waiting for the light to change to cross Marylebone Road would be inhaling up to 40% higher levels of toxic pollutants than a less busy street in other areas of London. Sensitivities will increase if the cyclist is breathing heavier due to a higher cycling tempo.
Fundamentally, the most important aspect for implementing any strategy is missing – How are these proposed strategy points measurable? Just one example, because there are too many to specifically mention, is the proposal to: “work with taxi manufacturers to develop an affordable zero emission taxi”. Surely the Mayor is aware that this work has been ongoing for many years, probably more than 10 years by LTI ad that they have just introduced the TX4 model that is Euro IV compliant. This type of rhetoric, without any targets that are measurable, are completely meaningless and part of the problem that has defined the political agenda defining London’s clean air problem for far too long.
The drive to increase manufacturing and therefore shift the balance of GDP from 80% financial services to manufacturing is a good idea. But what will Britain produce in the future? More nuclear waste, atomic weapons, aircraft carriers and submarine launched missile defence systems? None of these products are easily tradable, so their economic cost benefit to our economy in terms of helping improve the balance of trade with other nations is minimal. The Trident system was developed and is manufactured in the United States, by Lockheed Martin. Therefore, the UK investment in development of a new missile defence system by the United States may be seen as a kind of subsidy to their existing programme. The true benefit to the economy of production of nuclear warheads and investment in defense facilities and staffing here in the UK is significantly less than an investment in manufacturing consumer products or industrial goods and services for domestic consumption or export.
The UK government has established investment principles for all projects and programmes it undertakes using taxpayers’ money. It’s produced by HM Treasury and is called the Green Book. The book contains fundamental guiding principles for investment that civil servants are encouraged to abide, the two questions that must be answered on any investment programme contemplated by the government are:
- Are there better ways to achieve the objective?
- Are there better uses for these resources?
Since the UK is part of the EU, a shared defence programme for the member states should be constructed. Germany was the first country in Europe to emerge from the recession. Its defence budget is the second lowest per capita of the G8 countries. History has demonstrated time and again since WWI that the UK government has little to no control over decisions made in the US regarding their national security issues. This was made clear in a contemporary example, when the US pushed forward the pre-emptive strike on Iraq without having agreed its exit strategy with the UK, despite the UK government position that an exit strategy be clearly defined before commencing the invasion.
Investments should be made in revitalising the manufacturing industries in the UK. We should be building wind turbines, since we can derive most of our electricity from offshore wind farms, combined heat and power generators and solar thermal collectors. Biodiesel fuel should be refined from the fields of rape seed grown in Britain. Distribution facilities containing biodiesel fuels and fuel blends should be established across the country to improve our air quality and reduce our dependency on fossil fuel. We can build and invigorate our tradition of manufacturing quality consumer products and retool the production facilities in Coventry to build automobiles with hybrid engine technology. The UK production launch of Auris, a new hybrid in Toyota’s Derbyshire manufacturing plant, is an excellent example of the way forward.
If we are to become a more industrialised and balanced nation – let’s ensure that the products that we are producing are contributors to building real value to our economy and represent good investment value for taxpayers money.
Part of the 12 point energy policy devised by the Tories includes “facilitating nuclear”. Faciliate is just a different word for “Fast Track” – the term used by Labour to describe the process of speeding up the local consent required to construct a new nuclear power plant. Faciliate, in Toryspeak will most likely lead to another action, meaning investmentby the taxpayer. No utility could ever make nuclear power economically viable, nor would be willing to pay for all the collateral costs associated with nuclear power plants. Surely the public don’t understand what we take on every time we construct one of these behemoths. Nuclear power requires massive subsidy from the taxpayer. We can be sure that with a Tory leadership, more taxpayers money will go to support an inefficient and dangerous form of energy. They tell us we have no choice. But we must question the real motivations behind the construction of nuclear power facilities in the UK.