‘Environment’ is a massive topic, covering air quality, green spaces, trees, energy, waste, recycling – we could go on. This week we’re going to attempt to tackle some of the issues and what the candidates promise to do about them.
Air quality is a big problem for London, contributing to over 4,000 premature deaths a year and putting us at risk of fines from the EU and International Olympic Committee. We’re going to run out of landfill space within a decade, yet some boroughs aren’t recycling even 20% of their waste. Utilities bills are rising, the urban heat island effect aggravates summer temperatures and climate change increases the risk of flooding.
The Mayor has a number of strategies to deal with climate change mitigation and resilience, air quality, water and waste. He or she also appoints members of the Royal Parks Agency board and is directly responsible for Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square (begging the question: why is one a lovely public space and one a shithole? Time to bring back the pedestrianised Parliament Square plans?).
So what of the candidates? One of Boris’s big nine points is planting 20,000 new street trees over the next four years and improving 300 acres of parkland (this isn’t a new pledge though: the improvements have been happening over the last few years). He wants to expand RE:NEW to a further 20,000 homes and use the London Green Fund to reduce carbon emissions; he also plans to increase electric vehicle charging points, introduce 600 hybrid buses, expand cycle hire and invest a £5m government grant in improving air quality hotspots.
Ken Livingstone plans to exploit as-yet untapped sources of funding to help insulate 400,000 homes, use TfL and the GLA’s energy-buying power to set up an energy co-operative so Londoners can buy cheaper energy, as well as retrofitting homes and working with utility companies to save water. He wants a network of wildflower corridors, designated beekeeping areas and new allotments. There are plans to introduce small grants for neighbourhoods to plant trees, install LED lighting and safe road crossings, as well as having a ‘green streets’ policy to combat flood risk. Ken also wants to reduce traffic noise pollution.
Brian Paddick has plans for a clean air zone in central London and the Lib Dem Big Switch plans would convert buses, taxis and light goods vehicles to electricity by 2020. He wants London to be a zero carbon city by 2030 (not even the Greens propose this!) by using the London Array wind farm, changing fuel sources through decentralised, renewable, heat and power schemes, cutting waste and reducing consumption through retrofitting, as well as working with utilities companies to provide energy more sustainably and cheaper. Brian aims for an extra 2m trees on our streets by 2025 through the existing RE:LEAF scheme.
As you’d expect, Jenny Jones (PDF) has a range of imaginative and tough policies on the environment. She wants a consistent set of recycling services across London to cut out by-borough confusion of what can and can’t be recycled and for London to be self-sufficient in waste processing by 2030. Also by 2030, she wants to reduce London’s energy consumption by half and to generate a third of our own energy; plans to achieve this include expanding RE:NEW to 1m homes, develop local energy networks and use the Mayoral planning veto to thumbs down developments that miss energy opportunities. She wants the GLA to be a zero carbon public service by 2020, to switch a third of traffic lights to LEDs and get at least 1,500 vehicles using electric or cooking oil engines. With Jones as Mayor, all Londoners would be within reach of a park, play space or wildlife habitat and she’d try to get motorised traffic out of the Royal Parks. The Greens are also the only party to have a specific animal manifesto (PDF).
Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens all agree on aiming for a zero waste future London, want to set tough recycling targets and, weirdly, all three mention anaerobic digestion plants to generate energy from waste food – either coincidence, or it’s very much doable. The Lib Dems and Greens both want to wage war on throwaway carrier bags with either a tax on plastic (LD) or outright ban (Green).
Over the next couple of days we’ll look in more depth at air pollution and the RE:NEW programme.