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Boris bikes in London

The London mayoral election has seen a focus on issues like cycling and air pollution in the city

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London mayor election: who is the greenest choice?

Mark Briggs

26th April, 2012

With Londoners due to go to the polls to elect a mayor for the next four years, the Ecologist analyses the policies and asks, who is the greenest choice?

As the UK’s biggest city London has also some of its biggest environmental problems, including dangerous air pollution and rising transport costs. Next week, Londoners get three chances to vote on how best to tackle the city’s environmental issues. Firstly for a mayor, secondly for local representative in the London Assembly and lastly an extra vote for 11 more Assembly representatives.

Understandably, the London mayoral election has gained the most attention, largely due to the high profiles of its two leading candidates, Ken Livingston and Boris Johnson. Both are backed by the country’s two largest parties, helping them to squeeze out the other candidates to the position of also-rans. However, Sian Berry’s forth place finish last time around has seen the Green’s current candidate, Jenny Jones, share a platform with the mainstream parties, most notably on BBC’s Newsnight. Has her presence prompted greater emphasis of greener policies in the three main manifestos, and what are the two front runners planning to help London’s environment?

Transport costs and cheaper fares

The first key battleground opened up over fares on London transport network. Ken Livingstone laid out his stall in January, declaring he intended to cut fares by 7 per cent immediately, freezing them next year and promising no above inflation increases after that. While encouraging public transport will help to get Londoners out of their cars, this has not been his priority. Livingstone says he can say public transport users £1,000 over his four year term. Boris Johnson has denied the plan is workable saying lost revenue will result in lower investment at a time when increasing capacity should be the priority for a transport system under severe stress.

Johnson says he intends to raise capacity by implementing new technologies, lengthening trains and lobbying government to hand over control of suburban rail franchises to the Mayor’s office so that Transport for London can set operating standards. Neither mentions how many cars they hope to take off London’s roads with their policies.

The Liberal Democrats have unveiled a plan for a 1 hour bus pass and ‘Early Bird’ discounts for those using public transport before 7.30am. The Greens meanwhile announced plans to ensure that public transport is cheaper than driving. They intend to introduce a pay-as-you-drive scheme to replace the congestion charge, but so far have not released any numbers on how much they intend to charge motorists.

Boris bikes and cycling in London


Since Livingstone left office a bike hire scheme has been rolled out across central London. Although the plan was initiated under Ken (and previously championed by the Liberal Democrats), the bikes appeared during Boris’ term. Timing, and his long history of bike riding, helped coin the name ‘Boris Bikes’ which his manifesto claims has been a huge success ‘I promised the world’s best cycle hire scheme, and I have delivered it’. The bikes have been rolled out in conjunction with cycle superhighways giving priority to cyclists on section of artery roads into central London.

Boris intends to triple the number of such highways in his second term, including the possibility of an East-West highway. Ken however has said he will suspend the spread of these highways whose routes he says disproportionately benefit affluent city workers and have unanswered safety questions. Instead Livingstone plans to re-direct funding to try and tackle dangerous junctions such Bow Junction in East London and the Elephant and Castle roundabout.

The London Cycling Campaign, giving their judgement of policy, coming down firmly against the incumbent, ‘Boris Johnson’s transport manifesto commitments to cycling are very weak, undermined by an emphasis on keeping motor traffic moving. Livingstone’s cycling policies are more encouraging in many ways, but there’s still a major concern that, like Johnson, he won’t prioritise cycling over motor traffic. Perhaps having Jenny Jones – who is by far the most impressive candidate for cycling policies – as Livingstone’s cycling advisor, as he’s committed to doing, will change his approach.’

The Green Party’s Jenny Jones has backed Ken Livingstone as green voters second preference, Livingstone in turn has said that if elected he will appoint Jones as an advisor on cycling and walking in the capital.

‘The voting system gives Londoners a chance to make a positive Mayoral first choice for a more equal, healthier and affordable London.’ Said Jones,  ‘However, should I not be counted among the top two candidates after the first round, then I want a Mayor who will work with Green Party Assembly Members to deliver on pay equality, less pollution and cheaper fares. Ken Livingstone is far from perfect, but we know from his last time as Mayor that we can work with him to make positive changes, in a way that would be impossible with either Boris Johnson, or many other senior Labour politicians.’

An outright Green victory would see them enforce a 20 mph zone across all non-arterial roads in the capital to both cut down on emissions and make it safer for cyclist and pedestrians.

Brian Paddick’s manifesto claims he is committed to ensuring cycling remains an integral part of the London transport make-up, and has promised to learn lessons from the Dutch who have so successfully embraced cycling.

London’s ‘invisible’ air pollution crisis

Although not the ‘Great Smog’ of the 1950s, London’s air pollution has come under scrutiny during the campaign. Clean Air London say London’s poor air quality is the biggest public health risk after smoking and causes more than 4,000 premature deaths in the capital each year. After ranking each of the four main candidates, Boris Johnson came in last place.

‘Boris Johnson has been caught actively working to undermine the two measures most likely to protect the health of Londoners and address the biggest public health risk after smoking.  In particular, he is actively suppressing public awareness of air pollution while orchestrating a major campaign, behind the scenes with the Government, to weaken UK and international air quality laws.

On the same ranking system, the campaign group ranked Jenny Jones top, Brian Paddick second and Ken Livingstone third.

Livingstone claims the UK is in serious danger of the £300 million fine from the EU over its air quality and wants to promote the use of electric buses and taxis, and create clean air zones around places such as schools, involving, among other policies, a 20mph speed limit.

Johnson’s manifesto states the current mayor has already secured £5 million funding from central government for a Clean Air Fund. He has promised to maintain a 100 per cent congestion charge discount for low emission vehicles as well as increasing the number of charging points for electric vehicles to 1,300 by 2013. A move CAL say ‘demonstrates his lack of understanding of the issues’.

On ITV’s mayoral debate, the candidates were all asked about air quality. A consensus was reached by Paddick, Livingston and Jones for a Public Inquiry. Johnson defended his Air Quality strategy, which prompted 34 Labour MPs to write to the Environment Minister Caroline Spellman claiming the mayor was ‘perpetuating a fraud’.

Johnson has also publicly declared his intention to see a new hub airport built in the Thames estuary, saying it will enable London to maintain its competitiveness in the global market places. Livingstone is against the planned airport, but again on economic rather than environmental grounds, saying a new airport would cost 114,000 jobs in West London. Neither the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party back plans for increase air travel around the capital saying better use can be made of existing airspace and capacity.

Trees, parks and home energy

Where Johnson has the clearest advantage in environmental policies comes in protecting and promoting green spaces. During his first term, Johnson set out the London plan which seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 65 per cent by 2025. He also plants to plant another 20,000 trees in London in his second term, adding to the 10,000 already planted since 2008.

Paddick has laid out plans to turn key areas of central London into pedestrian zones including areas stretching from Trafalgar Square to Oxford Street.

All parties have pledged to help Londoner’s tackle souring energy prices, mainly through schemes to install insulation in homes across the capital. However, Livingstone has also said he wants to set up a London-wide Co-operative so that residents can use the purchasing power of TfL to buy energy on the wholesale market, decreasing dependency on the so called ‘Big 6’ energy companies.

Perhaps unsurprising a report to find the greenest mayoral candidate by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace saw Jenny Jones come first based on her manifesto, pledges and public record.

Ken Livingstone ranked second, largely on the back of his record in the job last time around. The report did however note that while in office Livingstone failed to meet EU air quality targets. On this topic Brian Paddick comes out well with his idea for a Central London Low Emissions Zone. Boris Johnson comes last as a result of transport policies the charities say promote car use, and his backing for increased airport capacity servicing London.

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