Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:07 pm on 5th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 10:07 pm, 5th January 2010

My Lords, I congratulate the ODA and all the other organisations on the progress made in developing the Olympic project and sites. Clearly it is a lesson for many future developments and is much better than many in the past. We have heard many supportive speeches, which is great. I fear that in my remarks I might pour a little cold water-or, rather, hot polluted air-on the project.

It all started when, as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, I expressed strong concerns about the failure of the ODA to require suppliers to use rail or water, not just for the easy bulks but also for the other structures and materials, similar to the arrangements provided by the British Airports Authority for Terminal 5 at Heathrow. It is not often that I congratulate BAA, but on that occasion it did very well. Since then there have been some improvements, such as those outlined by my noble friend Lady Morgan, but nothing like the potential if the ODA had set up common-user consolidation centres in a few places around the country to deliver materials by rail. That, I calculated, would have saved about 800,000 lorry journeys around Stratford between last year and the time of the Olympics.

I am afraid that that is just one concern that I have about air quality issues. My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester said in his opening remarks that the Olympics are breaking new grounds of sustainability in a healthy and enjoyable environment. I hope he is right. Sadly, however, there are serious problems of air quality in the Stratford area and in London generally which, unless they are tackled urgently by the Government and the Mayor, could mean that the main Olympic site will be in breach of air quality limits during the Olympics. Do we want them to be called the high-pollution Olympics? I hope not.

I spoke briefly about this during the debate on the Queen's Speech, but there have been further developments since. Two prime legal breaches of air quality in London affect the Stratford site. The first relates to the air quality laws for dangerous airborne particles which we call PM10s. Those laws have been breached in London every year since January 2005, when they entered into force. They were breached again in 2009. For example, on the Marylebone Road the allowable daily average of 50 micrograms per cubic metres was breached on 39 days, when only 35 were allowed. That was in a mild and wet year. I suggest that it could have been a lot worse in hot years such as 2003 and 2006. On 11 December 2009, the European Commission rejected the UK's application for a delay until 11 June 2011 to comply with the PM10 air quality laws for London. These laws must therefore continue in force, but will they be breached again in 2010 or 2012? The Government may even be faced with a £300 million fine from the European Commission for failure to implement these laws.

The second breach is in the air quality laws for nitrogen dioxide, NO2, which entered into force on 1 January, only five days ago. These require annual mean levels of NO2 not to exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre and for no more than 18 hours in a year to exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre. However, last year in Brompton Road, by Harrods, the annual mean was 88 micrograms per cubic metre, and the 200 micrograms per cubic metre standard was breached 341 times-in other words, nearly daily instead of nearly monthly. There are similar figures for Marylebone Road according to the London Air Quality Network. The hourly standard for NO2 is likely to be breached in London by a very wide margin.

Therefore, even if the UK Government win a delay from the Commission for NO2 from 2010 to 2015, which they are apparently seeking, they must still ensure that annual average concentrations of NO2 do not exceed 60 micrograms per cubic metre, which is a long way from the figure of 107, or 88 which I have just mentioned. We have detailed maps of all the most seriously polluted areas.

The problem is that it is the responsibility of the Mayor of London to take action on these issues. One has to ask why the mayor took nearly 18 months to produce a draft air quality strategy, which the European Commission said on 11 December 2009 did not even meet the minimum conditions for a time extension to comply with the air quality laws for PM10. This means that the Commission rejected the British Government's application for an extension due to the poor quality of the mayor's response. This was the mayor's responsibility. I have to ask my noble friend why the Government are being so patient with the mayor. Why have they let the mayor remove or delay valuable transport measures that were planned to contribute to better air quality? For example, he has postponed phase 3 of the low emission zone and plans to remove the western extension of the congestion charging zone. Of course, he will lose revenue from the failure to extend the zone, and the cancellation of the £25 CO2 charge for gas guzzlers will make a black hole in TfL's financing, which will not help either.

Therefore, I suggest to my noble friend that the Government give the mayor full legal responsibility for complying with these air quality laws, at least for PM10s, for which the necessary measures are within his grasp. NO2 compliance is more difficult and requires national solutions. It is very good that the Government announced this morning the launch of the boiler scrappage scheme, which will help dramatically to reduce some NO2 emissions. We have to remember that the UK is the largest emitter of NOX in the whole of the EU and is set to breach the emissions ceiling by 2010.

That may all seem a little scientific and detailed but it is worth reminding ourselves that the Campaign for Clean Air in London estimates that in 2005 up to 7,900 premature deaths were due to dangerous airborne particles in London. On average, those people, who account for about one in eight of the total deaths in London, may have died 10 years early.

Therefore, I suggest that the solution lies largely in the mayor's hands. First, he should ban all pre-Euro IV diesel engines from London well before the Olympics, as it is diesel that produces the pollution. There are plenty of newer vehicles around and there should be a London-wide ban. Secondly, with such a huge public health problem, widespread breaches of the air quality laws since 2005 and a mayor who is going backwards and not forwards, I question how the Government can say that the preparations for the Olympics are going well and breaking new grounds of sustainability in a healthy and enjoyable environment. The site may be very sustainable-I congratulate those who designed it-but because of its location that part of London will certainly not be healthy unless the Government and the mayor take urgent action. My recollection is that in Beijing they solved the problem of pollution by banning cars for some time before the Games. I hope that between the mayor and the Government they can do something a little more sensible and more long-lasting. I wish the Games well.


Simon Birkett
Posted on 5 Feb 2010 11:22 am (Report this annotation)

Dear Lord Berkeley

Thank you for championing the real issues around air quality in London.

The Campaign for Clean Air in London published a campaign update with details of other key events during the same week, notably the Environmental Audit Committee meeting (shortly before you spoke) and the publication by the National Audit Office of its report into UK air quality. See:


This update also highlighted your excellent speech.

Well done. I hope you get good answers.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Simon Birkett
Campaign for Clean Air in London