Sadiq Khan's first week: launches air quality campaign; backs City Airport expansion

London's new Mayor Sadiq Khan seemed to support opposing policies during his first week in office, as he launched a new campaign to tackle air quality, while also clearing a major obstacle for London City Airport's expansion plans. His predecessor, Boris Johnson, had opposed the airport's £300m project to build new terminal and taxiway facilities for larger aircraft, but Khan last week removed City Hall's objection to the airport buying land owned by the Greater London Authority.

The Green Party London Assembly member Sian Berry, said, quoted in the Evening Standard: "This is a terrible start for the new Mayor, putting paid to his pledge to be the greenest Mayor London has had." 

Statements put out by the Mayor's Office indicate that Khan believes that air pollution mitigation measures proposed by the airport will do enough to allow expansion without breaking his election promise to bring London's air quality to within 'safe and legal limits'. A Mayor's Office spokesman said, in the Financial Times: "The Mayor has withdrawn the objection following new evidence submitted by London City Airport."

The airport still needs planning permission for its proposals. Newham Borough Council initially gave notice to permit the development before Johnson directed Newham to refuse permission. Khan's withdrawal of the objection clears the way for a planning inspectorate report for a government decision on the application.

Commenting on Khan's decision, EY partner Amanda Clack said: "Planning is crucial in unlocking the potential of infrastructure to deliver wider economic benefits, such as housing, which is critical to the success of London’s growth. This announcement will allow public consultation to continue around the normal planning permission process. We need to maintain the momentum in building London’s infrastructure and decisions like these are positive strides to ensure London remains a centre for growth.”

Khan announced a formal policy consultation on a package air quality measures at the end of his first week in office. The measures include: extending the proposed ultra-low emission zone and bringing its introduction forward from 2020; levying an additional charge on the heaviest polluting vehicles in the London Congestion Charge zone; and go-ahead for TfL to start work on a diesel scrappage scheme for older vehicles.

Industry has welcomed Khan's announcement. Director of the Environmental Industries Commission, Matthew Farrow, told Infrastructure Intelligence that if Khan can do enough to reduce air pollution at street level, he'll be able to solve much of the air quality issues surrounding airport expansion. At Heathrow, which Khan has opposed, around 50-60% of local air pollution comes from vehicles serving and surrounding the airport, according to industry reports.

The Local Government Association's environment spokesman, councillor Peter Box, said Khan's air quality plans must be extended nationally:

“Good air quality is vital for our health and quality of life as well as the environment. We support moves to introduce national scrappage incentives which councils believe would encourage a shift away from diesel cars towards low emission vehicles. This should coincide with further government action to incentivise a move away from polluting diesel vehicles and consideration about what contribution vehicle manufacturers should make to the cost of reducing harmful vehicle emissions," Box said.

“Councils across the country also need a range of powers to allow them to further tackle poor air quality. This includes councils outside of London also being able to combat congestion hot spots by enforcing moving traffic violations, including illegal U-turns and box junction offences.”