Mayor: London ULEZ ‘difficult but necessary’ step towards protecting children’s health

The 2019, 2021 and 2023 phases of the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Image: TfL

The controversial expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is a ‘difficult but necessary’ measure towards protecting the lives of children.

That remains the steadfast message from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, whose newly-expanded ULEZ scheme took effect at the end of August and will enable five million more London residents – many of whom will be children – to breathe cleaner air.

Despite facing calls from across the political spectrum to scrap the expansion plans on the grounds that it is unaffordable and unworkable for many residents, Mayor Khan has remained immovable on the issue, even winning a legal challenge brought against him and Transport for London by four local London councils.

Clean air zones like ULEZ, he maintains, are the ‘most effective tool’ available for quickly cutting air pollution in a city as big as London, which has a population of nearly nine million.

‘A highly divisive issue’

The new zone now covers every London borough and is expected to cut carbon emissions in outer London by a further 27,000 tonnes. ULEZ was originally introduced in 2019 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now, even if drivers make a short trip inside the zone in a vehicle that doesn’t meet preset emissions standards, there will be a daily charge of £12.50.

The ULEZ expansion has been and remains a highly divisive issue, not only in London but on the national political scene. A recent Parliamentary by-election in the London outer borough of Uxbridge became effectively a referendum on the ULEZ expansion. Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the national opposition Labour Party, blamed the party’s failure to gain the seat on the ULEZ expansion, and said that Mayor Khan should ‘reflect’ on the result. This was taken by many to mean that the expansion should not go ahead.

Yet there has remained strong support for the expanded ULEZ from the medical community, including the leaders of doctors’ associations and health-based charities.

Dr Chinthika Piyasena, a London-based Consultant Neonatologist, said: “There is mounting evidence that air pollution is linked pregnancy complications that can have lifelong consequences for babies. Air pollution particles can cross the placenta, and this increases the risk of stillbirth, or babies being born too early or too small.

“Studies have also shown that exposure to toxic air during pregnancy is associated with altered structure of the newborn brain. ULEZ is a chance to clean up our city’s air and protect life at its most fragile. Pregnant women and babies will be healthier for it.”

‘Crucial that the experts are listened to’

Perhaps one of the most significant voices supporting the scheme is that of Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella, nine, died in 2013 as a result of asthma brought on by toxic fumes. She was the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on her death certificate after a UK coroner concluded that illegal levels of air pollution significantly contributed to her acute asthma.

Her death was influential in accelerating action on air pollution, with Mayor Khan responding to a campaign by her mother and the coroner, by putting it among his top priorities as mayor. One of the results of this was the introduction of ULEZ.

Rosamund said: “For the last 28 months of her life Ella suffered horrendously. Her KC (lawyer) Richard Herman equated it to torture. That is why it is crucial that the experts in Ella’s second inquest are listened to and ULEZ is implemented London-wide, so no child will ever suffer and die like she had to, due to illegal levels of pollution.”

Click here for more information on London’s ULEZ.

Author: Simon Weedy

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