Government forced to spend extra £5 million battling London's air pollution

photo The mayor's own studies suggest that 4300 people die prematurely in London due to polluted air

London's air quality is so bad that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has put £5 million into a 'Clean Air Fund', some of which might be spent on measures encouraging cycling.

However, it's expected that most of the money will finance ongoing trials to wash particulate pollution away from the dirtiest streets, and on low-emission buses.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also announced subsidies for businesses to buy new vans and mini-buses, replacing the worst polluting vehicles.

London has been breaking legally binding European targets for particulate matter PM10 and nitrous oxides for several years now, and is in danger of incurring fines that could run into hundreds of million pounds.

The Department for Transport has said the Clean Air Fund could also pay for Travel Plans for local businesses, traffic-smoothing, no-idling zones, local cycling and walking schemes, and tree planting.

It's not clear how money would be allocated, or which cycling and walking schemes would be eligible. 

The money will be backed by a new Clean Air Strategy for London, which is also a condition of the EU's temporary exemption from air-quality standards.

The new strategy must be in place by 11 June 2011 to satisfy EU officials.

Since coming to office 2008, the Mayor has introduced several measures with a detrimental effect on air quality, including:

  • Scrapping the western extension of congestion charge zone
  • Reducing twice yearly inspections of black cabs to a single annual test, though vehicles regularly failed the bi-annual tests
  • Delaying the introduction of the Very Low Emission Zone for central London, which was due to come into place in 2008, and would have required mid-sized vehicles, such as the thousands of work vans in London, to reduce the level of pollutants in their exhaust emissions

It's estimated around 4300 people die of illnesses related to air pollution in Greater London every year.

London has consistently been found to have some of the worst air pollution of any city in Europe.