The Lord Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has unveiled details of his plan to introduce an “ultra-low emission zone” covering a huge swath of London in the next few years.
The scheme, which will see the most polluting vehicles charged for entering the centre of the capital from April next year, will be extended to the North Circular and South Circular roads in 2021.
The Guardian reports clean air campaigners said the move would improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people, although some called for the wider clean-air Zone to be introduced earlier.
Air pollution contributes to 40,000 deaths a year in the United Kingdom and causes long-term health problems for hundreds of thousands of people.
It disproportionately affects children and poorer Londoners.
Mr Khan said: “Tackling London’s lethal air and safeguarding the health of Londoners requires bold action.
“Air pollution is a national health crisis and I refuse to stand back as thousands of Londoners breathe in air so filthy that it shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illness.”
Unveiling the plans at a London primary school, the London mayor announced a four-year study looking at the impact of toxic air on the health of 3000 primary schoolchildren.
The Guardian reports the project, led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London, will compare the health of children in the capital with those in polluted areas of Luton where there is no low-emission zone planned.
Children are especially vulnerable to traffic pollution, with evidence showing stunted lung growth in polluted areas worldwide, leaving them at risk of lifelong breathing disorders and earlier death.
Pollution also triggers asthma, asthma attacks and chest infections.
Once the zone is extended to the North Circular and South Circular, it will cover a huge area of London, and officials estimate 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans and 3000 trucks will be affected each day.
It will also include a “particulate matter standard”, after the Guardian revealed every part of London exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines for PM2.5, the most dangerous particulate.
Paul Morozzo, a clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “It’s going to have a huge impact on air quality and make a real difference to Londoners’ quality of life. London is leading the way in tackling harmful air pollution.”
The Guardian reports environment lawyers at ClientEarth, which has defeated the government three times over its air pollution plans, said “political leaders across the UK should take note”.
However, James Thorton, the organisation’s chief executive, said the London mayor should go further.
“A stronger, bigger ultra-low emission zone, brought in sooner, would be key to tackling the illegal and harmful levels of air pollution found across the whole of Greater London,” he said.
The charge in the central London zone and extended area will operate all day, every day.
Drivers within the expanded zone using “non-compliant” vehicles will pay a daily charge of £12.50.
Mr Khan will also tighten standards for the most polluting heavy vehicles, including buses, coaches and trucks, which will face a daily charge of between £100- £300, across the whole of London from October 2020.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said he “could not fault the Mayor’s crusade to tackle air pollution”.
He added: “Cleaning up vehicles will only take us part of the way toward truly clean air. We need fewer vehicles, not just cleaner ones.
“That’s why the mayor must continue to invest in measures to prioritise walking and cycling and reduce traffic on our streets.”
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