MPs are to launch an investigation into air pollution in London following a report suggesting that the capital has the worst quality air in the UK.
Chairwoman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley, said that her committee would look into the problem after a report by Public Health England said that the boroughs of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea have the highest levels of pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and various types of particulants, of any location in the country.
The report says that in 2010, 3,389 deaths in London were linked to air pollution, and 41,404 “life years” were lost. The borough with the worst mortality rate was Barnet, with 162 deaths linked to poor quality air, closely followed by Bromley with 161 and Croydon with 155.
Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster had the highest percentage of deaths attributable to air pollution, however, each with 8.3 percent.
London’s air pollution problems pale in comparison other major world cities, however. India’s Center for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that air pollution in New Delhi was over 60 times higher than the level considered safe during the past winter. Levels of the most harmful pollutant, PM2.5, averaged 575 micrograms per cubic metre.
The Chinese capital Beijing had similar problems, recording 400 micrograms at peak levels. This compares to just 20 micrograms in London, well within the range of what is considered ‘safe’.
The investigation into London’s air quality also comes despite numerous expensive ‘green’ schemes to reduce emissions in the capital.
Previous mayor Ken Livingstone introduced a “congestion charge” in central London to try to cut the number of cars in the middle of the city and encourage the use of public transport instead. The charge is currently £10 per day.
Current mayor Boris Johnson has also introduced a bicycle hire scheme, popularly known as “Boris bikes”, to encourage more people to cycle around the capital in preference to driving. Despite sponsorship by Barclay’s bank, the scheme still costs taxpayers £11 million per year, or £1,400 per bicycle.
Perhaps the biggest ‘green’ transport initiative by the current mayor, however, has been the creation of a new fleet of hybrid diesel-electric buses whose design is based on the traditional Routemaster bus that was once a common sight on London streets.
These buses cost £11 million to design, and each bus costs £50,000 more than a standard hybrid model.