In times to come we may well look back on the last few years and wonder how the Mayor of London could have even tried to hide the scandal of air pollution.
Today I was in Lewisham, highlighting Boris Johnson’s dishonesty in attempting to cover something that is causing the premature death of over 4,000 Londoners every year.
The biggest contributor to pollution is traffic on our roads. We simply wouldn’t accept it if over 4,000 people were killed in collisions with cars, , so why is it in any way acceptable that people should die prematurely from fumes? The lollipop men and women who joined me today highlighted this dreadful double standard.
The campaign group Clean Air in London last week revealed that the capital has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas, of any capital city in Europe in 2010. Levels are comparable with those in Beijing where many people routinely wear masks to protect themselves.
Air pollution is now emerging as the number one public health issue for Londoners. But the response of the Conservative mayor has been to try and hide the problem, by ‘gluing’ pollution to the streets around air monitoring stations – rather than taking steps to deal with its causes.
By electing more Green Assembly Members, London can help ensure that this crucial issue is given the attention it needs. Green Assembly Members have been campaigning for realistic action to tackle air pollution for many years. The Campaign for Clean Air in London has said that the party has made “the most strident commitment to air quality” in its 2012 London Manifesto.
We have also made a 6-minute video on the air pollution problem, entitled ‘Air Pollution: A 21st Century Health Scandal’, including interviews with Simon Birkett, Director of the Campaign for Clean Air in London, Dr David Green from the Environmental Research Group and Dr Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Heath, at King’s College London and ordinary Londoners affected by air pollution.
Please pass it on to others, and together we can tackle London’s second biggest killer.
The Boris mantra during this election has been that it’s all about trust and honesty. He repeats it at every opportunity. Londoners should vote for the person they trust. So, consider the following.
Safety measures were proposed at Bow Roundabout when the new cycling superhighway was installed and they were rejected. Two cyclists subsequently died. Since then Boris has failed to explain why they were rejected and by whom.
Bow Roundabout was a tragedy and one that appears to have been replicated elsewhere in London because of the mayoral decision to prioritise the speed of car and lorry drivers. The Mayor’s office have denied any direct involvement in the decision to reject the safety improvements contained in the consultant’s (Jacobs) report and when Ken suggested on LBC that Boris’s high profile Mayoral advisor, Kulveer Ranger, had intervened, Boris responded that this was ‘reprehensible’. However, when pressed on Kulveer’s involvement, Boris merely said he “didn’t know.” I commented on how odd this was, given that Boris spent several months (November through to March) having to handle a dozen written questions from me and two verbal exchanges on the subject. Indeed, in response to one of my questions to him in February (Question No: 3701 / 2011) about the involvement of Kulveer, the Mayor said: “As a normal matter of course, my Advisors are not involved in the scheme development process.”
Boris’ answers to my questions concluded in March with a very emphatic statement that Kulveer Ranger did not discuss or see the Jacobs’ report until after the two deaths had occurred and I had given a copy to BBC London to publish. I find this remarkable as it implies that TfL never discussed the Jacobs’ proposals with the Mayor’s office, even after two people had died and the Mayor’s office were asking why it had happened.
Of course it can all be explained by the fact that the Mayor and (it appears) his advisors don’t do detail. That means it was TfL’s job to make the decision about safety at Bow Roundabout (within the context of the Mayor’s new ‘smoothing traffic flow’ policy) and they are to blame. Except that I have information from FoI requests to TfL which say otherwise. But I now know that Kulveer Ranger had monthly meetings with TfL from 2009 onwards to discuss cycling. These were formal meetings with agendas, minutes and decisions. Cycling superhighways were discussed every month and the project officers implementing the schemes were present to discuss the detail. We have only been given a snippet of the minutes from May 2010, but from this we know that Bow Roundabout was a particular concern as it was on the border of Tower Hamlets and Newham. It reads:
“Discussion on CSH routes 2 and 8 (to be delivered in 2011), focusing on Westminster’s and Newham’s positions on CSH/blue paint. Possible impact on route 2 delivery beyond Bow Flyover leading to Olympic Park in Newham was discussed in more detail, including solutions for Vallance Road and Bow roundabout. Group agreed that it is necessary to continue discussions with boroughs sensibly.”
Bow needed Kulveer’s personal and ongoing attention as Newham’s Labour politicians didn’t want the Mayor’s blue paint and were blocking the progress of the cycling superhighway beyond the roundabout. It was a political problem, not an engineering problem and I understand that any safety measure on the east side of the roundabout, as proposed in the Jacobs report in January, would also have needed Newham’s sign off.
I am aware that the Mayor’s office have stalled FoI requests from November about their involvement and I feel that we need a proper judicial enquiry into the role that the design of roads plays in the deaths of cyclists in London. In the meantime, I have today written to the police with this information and asked them to consider a corporate manslaughter charge in the case of the Bow deaths, just as
they were considering them in the case of Kings Cross.
It may well have been human error by the lorry drivers and I wouldn’t wish to detract from that line of investigation, but the role of the Mayor’s office and overall policy must not be ignored. As this exchange from the November Mayor’s questions time illustrates:
Boris Johnson: “I didn’t over rule anybody in respect of Bow Roundabout. There are decisions taken on a wide range of traffic measures throughout the city which are not always referred to me. Certainly Bow Roundabout was not referred to me.”
Jenny Jones: “You were in charge of TfL, you give them a strategic overview of how to deal with these junctions.”
Boris “Yes I do.”
Jenny Jones: “It’s your ‘smoothing traffic flow’ that meant that TfL did not go forward with the improvements to the roundabout which could have saved lives.”
Boris “That is a hard accusation you are making.”
Indeed it is.
This evening I’m speaking at London Citizens’ accountability assembly. Or rather, I’m not really speaking so much as pledging to work with them, as Greens have done for the past twelve years on the London Assembly.
I’m happy to agree to the whole of their agenda for London, all of which is in our manifesto, with one tiny exception. They would like free travel extended to all full time students and apprentices, which is a very worthwhile but expensive promise. Instead we have pledged to bring down fares for everyone, and to help students further by bringing down housing costs, making it safer and easier to cycle, and campaigning against education cuts.
A lot of my work on the Assembly in the past four years, and that of my colleague Darren Johnson, has been to do with the London Citizens agenda from 2008.
I have pushed, lobbied, battled with Boris to make good on his promise to support a network of Community Land Trusts. Working closely with London Citizens and other communities around London, I had meetings with the Mayor’s advisor and staff and raised it at Mayor’s Question Time. I wrote a report showing how he could do it, and repeatedly badgered him into opening the door for them.
Sadly, earlier this year he sold the St Clements’ site to another bidder, leaving the local community that London Citizens organised to crowbar their way back in. He claims it’s a Community Land Trust but it isn’t owned or controlled by the community. I really want to get City Hall to work with local people to build permanently affordable housing, and to stop thinking that “regeneration” can be delivered without them.
Darren has spent years pushing the London Living Wage, ever since we got Ken to set up the London Living Wage Unit as part of our budget deal in 2004. Every year Darren compiles a progress report on local councils, pressuring them to sign up. He has lobbied Boria on his broken promises on catering, government departments and most recently the Olympics hotels. Boris completely failed hotel workers by granting Holiday Inn the prestiguous position of official hotel partner for the London 2012 Games, despite their refusing to sign up the London Living Wage.
We also brought the Strangers into Citizens campaign into the spotlight, getting cross-party support on the London Assembly and persuading the Mayor to support the campaign.
Darren and I are hoping to get re-elected to the Assembly on the 3rd May, and to get more Greens alongside us. Together we can continue to work closely with communities like London Citizens to deliver on our common vision for a fairer, more affordable and healthier London.
I suspect that Boris is considered relatively harmless by most Londoners, but his inaction and backwards steps on air pollution are leading to premature deaths, reduced lung capacity in children and severe respiratory problems for tens of thousands. Whatever Boris may say he is doing about reducing air pollution, the reality is that it hasn’t worked. Last year was one of the most polluted years in London since the big pollution spike of 2003.
I do not let Ken off the hook on this, as it is definitely a two mayor problem. Ken did eventually set up the low emission zone after years of successful pressure by my Assembly colleague Darren Johnson (dating back to 2000), but that ban on the most polluting vehicles was just one policy amongst many which needed to be implemented. Ken agreed to our request for tighter rules to cover light good vehicles, but Boris then delayed the start date by a year and a half. Ken brought in mid year inspections for black cabs, Boris abolished them, but after further pressure from Darren the Mayor is now bringing them back. The greens on the London Assembly have played a vital role in making sure air pollution stays a big issue at City Hall, even if the Mayor and Government would rather it were forgotten.
Boris Johnson’s record on air pollution is truly appalling. London have been suffering the effects of bad air long before it breached the European legal limits in 2005, but instead of focusing on reducing the health impacts on Londoners, this Mayor has put all his efforts into a series of cheats which he hopes will enable us to avoid the threat of £300m fines from the European Commission.
The main cheat is the use of dust suppressors to glue pollution to the roads in front of air quality monitoring units. Hundreds of roads in central London are polluted but only those with monitoring stations are getting the pollution glued to the roads. These monitoring stations are like the canary down the coal mine. They are there to help us know when the pollution is really bad, so the Government can issue pollution alerts to the tens of thousands of adults and children who suffer sever respiratory problems. Except the Government only issues one alert a year and the impact of the Mayor’s dust suppressant spraying is to reduce the level of pollution measured. It is like putting a gas mask on the canary in the coal mine. This lower level of pollution is then reported to the European Commission, although this spraying does nothing to help the bulk of Londoners living, working and passing through areas which are not being sprayed.
The other big cheat is ignoring those local authority monitoring stations which are recording higher levels of pollution than the main Government run monitoring station at Marylebone Road. For example, the monitoring station at Neasden Lane, run by Brent Council, was over the limit last year and it is already over the legal limit this year (i.e. more than the 35 bad air days for PM10). The Government only get away with it, by not telling European Commission that the monitoring stations exists. They claim it doesn’t meet the standards the Commission sets, but the local authority and the experts who run the London air quality network both agree that it does.
The Mayor was given £5m by the government to reduce air pollution last year. He has wasted much of that money on pot plants along the olympic route network and on gluing pollution to the road. I would stop this waste and redirect the money to setting up a very low emission zone in central London, so that only the cleanest vehicles were allowed to use the roads where the pollution is worst.
I would also stop the Mayor’s massive subsidy for his new bus for London. He is planning to waste £37m a year just on the extra member of staff which his proposed 600 new buses will need. I will use that 37m a year to help ensure that all new buses are low polluting hybrids.
I am shocked by the absence of action on air pollution in the Boris Johnson manifesto. At least in 2008 he had ambitions for a big electric vehicle program. It is shameful that he let this ambition collapse. The London Assembly worked out that it would take hundreds of years for London to reach his aspirational target of a 100,000 EVs on London’s roads. Yet, the Mayor shows no embarrassment for his failures, even the example of his £1m fund for an electric taxi which he press released again and again in 2010 & 2011, but turned out to have never existed. Boris has not apologised for this complete fraud on those journalists who covered the issue.
I believe that traffic reduction, rather than a switch to electric vehicles, is the main solution to London’s chronic air pollution problem. Especially as the current Mayor has not even managed to ensure that the electric charging points he funded are sourcing their energy from renewable sources. However, it does make sense for a green mayor to encourage a big switch to hybrid engines in taxis and electric engines in lorries and buses. It is a combination of measures that will solve our air pollution crisis, but all of them are urgent priority whoever is Mayor.
This is an issue that makes me feel that we still have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a civilisation. Recent figures have shone a renewed spotlight on the degree to which domestic violence is a blight on our society. The fact that two women a week are killed in Britain by their partner or former partner has been repeated many times, although it is less well known that (http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-articles.asp?section=00010001002200360002&itemid=1713) 500 women commit suicide each year within six months of being a victim of domestic violence.
But the latest report, showing that almost 19,000 women aged between 15 and 88 needed emergency housing in 2008-09 shows the degree to which so many lives are torn apart. These women need help; they need quality services to help them back on their feet.
The Green Party’s (http://london.greenparty.org.uk/manifesto ) London manifesto promises to work with councils to set up one-stop shops for domestic violence survivors in every borough of London. That’s informed by the experience of the Green-run Brighton council, where a pilot of what is called “intelligent commissioning” of domestic violence services is winning plaudits.
It’s found that dedicated services do a great job in meeting the needs of victims holistically, but even there, only about a quarter of incidents are reported – the aim is to make identifying and preventing domestic violence a core business of all public services, something we’d seek to also apply in London.
Our manifesto particularly identifies the importance of refugees with specialist skills to help ethnic minority women, including those at risk of honour killings.
But ultimately, what we have to do is concentrate, hard, on bringing down the levels of domestic violence in our society. Here’s four things we can do:
- Educate children, young people and adults about healthy relationships: Research has found that (http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=17168) physical abuse of girls by boys is widespread in teenage relationships. And we need to educate society in general about the need and opportunities for them to take action, as with the Met’s (http://content.met.police.uk/Campaign/domesticviolence2011) Help Make It Stop campaign last year.
- Ensure that the police’s response to domestic violence is consistent and high quality. There have been improvements, but more needs to be done.
- Deal with inequality. The fact is that (http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/indicators/topics/low-pay/low-pay-over-time/) more than half of the low-paid workers in London are women, and cuts to housing benefit, family tax credit and other benefits are going to hit them hard. Women are left feeling trapped by economic circumstances in abusive relationships, or even forced back into them when they have tried to leave.
- Recognise how restrictive asylum and working visa rules can leave women hugely vulnerable. Women who enter Britain on visas with no recourse for public funds, along with asylum-seekers and domestic migrant workers who face (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14778107 ) “slavery” under new visa rules, are all being set up as potential victims. We will lobby to change these rules.
I pressured the Met police to change their approach on trafficking, so that they finally helped the women (who are the victims) and got them onside to take action against the traffickers. I opposed Boris’ decision to abolish the specialist unit which was doing so much good work on the trafficking of women and I am concerned that this is one of the reasons for a decline in the Met Police’s success in dealing with this problem.
I also worked with the previous Mayor to successfully oppose a pole dancing club opening in Southwark and supported Object’s national campaign to change the planning laws to give communities more say in opposing strip clubs being opened.
There is a lot that City Hall can do to deal with the issue of violence against women. As an Assembly Member and a member of the police authority I constantly badgered senior officers into changing the attitude of the police towards rape. Despite the extra resources and apologies for past failures, the Met are still failing. Assembly Members can get some changes made, but we also need a Mayor who will be unrelenting in their pressure on the Met Police to ensure that rapists are convicted and put behind bars.
Finally, there is an immediate priority for the new Mayor. The (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6055502.stm ) sad fact is that there’s evidence linking big sporting events to increases in domestic violence. We need to take action now to try to ensure that doesn’t happen in London this summer with the 2012 Games coming to town.
Domestic Violence affects us all because it damages society, damages children, damages those who are trying to escape. It’s time it was a priority with elected people who can make a difference.
Photo credits David Castillo Dominici
I recently pledged to help secure funding for the Met Police Service’s Wildlife Crime Unit if elected Mayor.
It is obviously a popular issue as I have received about 700 emails from people concerned about the loss of the unit during the campaign.
Our animal manifesto contains lots of pledges about how as a city we can better look after animals, including a pledge to lobbying for dogs to only be sold from pet shops if they are already micro-chipped, vet-checked and with name and address of breeder.
In addition we have promised to ensure all animals must be sold with information about how to care for them which must include the Defra Code of Practice (for dogs, cats and equids).
The World Society for the Protection of Animals recently recorded an interview with me about this subject. you can watch the video here.
Yesterday’s LBC hustings was fiery and many points of tension were fully explored. But Boris’ fury over Ken’s comments on his tax affairs seemed a bit selective, when earlier in the programme Ken had made the much much more serious assertion that the Mayor’s office was culpable in the deaths of two cyclists at Bow Roundabout.
Perhaps I have a misguided sense of political priorities, but I assume that preventable deaths on our roads are a more serious affair than the details of Ken and Boris’s company accounts.
Ken made the accusation that the Mayor’s Deputy in charge of cycling, Kulveer Ranger, was involved in the decision not to go ahead with safety improvements at Bow Roundabout, when the cycling superhighway was being built there. These safety improvements were outlined in the Jacobs report which was submitted to Transport for London as part of the official consultation exercise on the superhighway.
We already knew from a written Mayoral answer that the recommended safety improvement didn’t go ahead because of fears of traffic jams.
This has been a common theme of the Boris era, with safety improvements to Kings Cross and elsewhere being rejected because of the policy of giving priority to cars and lorries. It is possibly one of the main reasons why we can’t say that cycling has got safer in London since Boris was elected.
There is nothing new in saying that the Mayor’s policy of ‘smoothing traffic flow’ has led to Transport for London making some bad decisions about road design. What was interesting was the Boris reaction to the suggestion that Kulveer Ranger might have been directly involved in cancelling the safety projects and effectively overruling TfL.
Boris initially said it was a ‘reprehensible’ idea – no argument there. But then when Ken pressed him on whether Kulveer made the call to cancel the proposed scheme, Boris backed off and said ‘he didn’t know’. Now this is surprising as I spent three months putting a series of written questions to the Mayor on this very point. Only after some very blunt questioning did I get an unequivocal answer in March this year, which was ‘no’, Kulveer was not involved.
So whilst Boris issued a straight denial on tax, the best he could do in defence of his Deputy Mayor in charge of cycling, was to claim he had no idea.
I don’t like the ambiguity of that statement and I think that Boris owes it to the victims’ families to again make clear that his chief cycling adviser had nothing to do with the decision on Bow and to publish all the relevant papers that show whether this was the case.
Victims of crime have never been seen as a high profile issue nor given the same priority as police enforcement and crime reduction. I know from my work with RoadPeace, the charity that helps the families and friends of people killed on the roads, that all the people who should be seen as victims are not acknowledged.
London has the highest victimisation rates of anywhere in the country. People tend to be frightened of groups of youths on street corners, but actually most of the time young people just have nowhere else to go. And they are more often the victims of crime, rather than the perpetrators. There used to be youth clubs for young people to go to, but as a result of the Government’s cuts to youth services, many clubs and amenities have been forced to close.
I recently met with Victim Support who told me that 40% of victims and 30% of non-victims in London believe the Criminal Justice System is failing to give victims and witnesses the support they need. All police services carry out regular user satisfaction surveys for victims and witnesses of crime. The Metropolitan Police comes 43rd out of 43 police services (last in the entire country) at 75%, meaning that an eye-watering quarter of the all the 18,000 Londoners who respond to the survey come away feeling that they did not receive the help and support they needed.
Victim Support is the largest UK charity supporting victims and witnesses of crime over England and Wales for the last 35 years. Up to 6,000 specially trained volunteers provide support services, including emotional support, information about the Criminal Justice System as well as practical help with completing forms or home security. Volunteers call victims of crime by police referral to offer help and are also contacted via their support line.
Victim Support have a London specific project, taking a good look at what is wrong with the Met’s current user satisfaction survey, as well as victims’ services in London in general, their treatment by police and the ways the next Mayor of London can introduce positive changes. Shockingly, they’ve found that the survey doesn’t even recognise large sections of society, meaning for a vast amount of people, their experience of victim support from the police as a whole is not documented and therefore completely unknown.
Londoners who are victims of crime but do not have an opportunity to complain or even feed back about their treatment by the police include victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, hate crime, anti-social behaviour, those bereaved by murder or manslaughter and young victims of crime including gang crime. Clearly. this is unacceptable. If you are a young Londoner and a victim of crime, you are not able to complain about your treatment, not allowed to vote, and if you are a victim of crime by a parent, or someone who should be protecting you, you’re in an incredibly vulnerable position. I was grateful to meet Ellie from Victim Support to hear in person how many of the people who’ve suffered have been excluded from the opportunity to have their voices heard.
The decision to exclude so many from participating in a survey that is supposed to be critical to the success of the police service and their ability to best protect Londoners, is made by the Home Office, not something decided at City Hall. As Mayor I would immediately identify this glaring injustice by the government and lobby them furiously, to provide a full and comprehensive service focused on victims’ needs that does not discriminate against people who have suffered enough.
It was great to talk to students on Monday as part of the University of London Union’s Mayoral debates. I made a short speech and then took part in a really productive question and answer session where we covered a vast range of issues from tuition fees to high speed rail.
Students are among the hardest hit by the current government’s policies. We all know about the headline grabbing issues of soaring tuition fees and cuts to the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Students in London also have to live in expensive, poorly maintained houses and have to work for low wages in part time jobs because of the high costs of living. Furthermore, their prospects of getting a job at the end of their studies are becoming slimmer by the day.
When I was a student, I felt I got a lot more help from the government. This is fairer because we all pay back our debts to society later in life. A good education will mean that students can give more back, whether through taxes or the jobs that they do. The Green Party believes that higher education should be free. As Mayor I would campaign tirelessly to end tuition fees and stop people being priced out of access to education. I would also re-introduce the EMA and lobby the government to look again at these damaging cuts and analyse the harm they are doing to the prospects of children from low income backgrounds.
Our policies of building more affordable homes and lowering transport fares will also benefit thousands of students in London. The benefits that students bring such as volunteering in their local communities and spending money in small businesses mean that we can’t afford to price them out of our city. When students finish their studies we will try to provide more support. We will create 150,000 new apprenticeships and make sure that the majority go to young people.
Students may feel betrayed by the three main parties, all of whom have played a role in imposing tuition fees. Students in London should place their trust in the Green Party as the only political party that will stand up for them and ensure that they can complete their studies without being burdened by worries about debt and their long term future.
Last week I joined Susanna Rustin, Natalie Bennett and a diverse but all female group of activists who are part of ‘Climate Rush’ during the morning rush hour in the tube, outside the internal access to Parliament. We were asking people (very very politely) who were going into the House of Commons if they would lobby David Cameron to put more resources into making cycling safer.
It was quite amusing, seeing who rushed past us without listening, but then cheering to see so many who supported cycle safety. I have been on the Bikes Alive protest at Kings Cross, and I was at the launch of Roadpeace ‘See Me Save Me’ campaign. These actions, and campaigns like ‘Love London Go Dutch’ from London Cycling Campaign, helped secure the Parliamentary debate on cycle safety.
But I also learned that, while last year London saw 16 deaths related to cycling, Holland had no cycling related deaths at all. Holland spends 460 million Euros on cycling, which is probably why their cycling record is so good. Recently in Leiden, a small Dutch town with thousands of cyclists, I was told that there was a cycling related death a few years ago. A man had a heart attack while on his bike. But we all agreed that didn’t really count as a cycling death. If our European counterparts can manage to save so many lives, then so can we.
A Green Mayor and a Green City Hall would build on the successful campaigning of our many Green Councillors by introducing 20mph speed limits on all streets where we live, work and shop. We would adopt Dutch road design principles to ensure cyclists have a clear, dedicated space on roads and we would rebuild London’s most dangerous junctions so they are safer for all vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.
Climate Rush take their inspiration from the Suffragette Movement and have adopted the slogan ‘Deeds Not Words’ in facing challenges like climate change and cycle safety. Their message is that we need to take responsibility now to prepare for the future and I couldn’t agree more.