Rishi Sunak has “put decades of progress on clean air into reverse” and now risks “stunting the lungs” of London’s children by failing to support the expansion of the capital’s ultra-low emissions zone, Sadiq Khan has said.
Ahead of the clean air scheme’s rollout to all boroughs in the capital on Tuesday, the London mayor issued a stark warning to Sunak who he said risked going down in history as the prime minister who “had the chance to save lives but refused to take it”.
Khan, who has accused the government of weaponising air pollution and climate change to win votes, has urged ministers to provide financial support for his policy, and the accompanying scrappage scheme, as it does for some other cities in England.
The government has given financial assistance to Birmingham, Bristol and Portsmouth to help fund their clean air zones but has refused to support London’s scheme, arguing that powers over transport and air quality are devolved to the capital.
Nearly 700,000 car drivers in Greater London face paying the £12.50-a-day Ulez charge from Tuesday when it is applied to all roads in the capital for the first time, according to figures obtained by the RAC, despite criticism that the move heaps financial pressure on struggling households.
After opposition to the Ulez expansion was credited by the Tories for their narrow byelection victory in Boris Johnson’s former west London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip last month, Sunak delayed and, in some cases, abandoned green policies that impose a direct cost on consumers.
However, Khan has argued that air quality in the capital is a health emergency – with about 4,000 Londoners dying prematurely due to causes linked to pollution in 2019, with the greatest number of premature deaths in outer London, according to Imperial College research.
More than 500,000 Londoners live with asthma and are more vulnerable to the impacts of toxic air, with over 50% living in outer London boroughs, every one of which exceeds World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines for NO2 and PM2.5 pollution.
Khan told the Guardian that he visited children’s hospitals after the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death at an inquest in the UK, and met ill children struggling to breathe as a result of air pollution.