London Mayoral Election: Sustainability Pledges Reviewed

Thursday, 5 May 2016, marks the end of Boris Johnson’s tenure as the Mayor of London. The key candidates in line to be his successor are: Zac Goldsmith, of the Conservative Party; Caroline Pidgeon, of the Liberal Democrats; Sian Berry, of the Green Party and Sadiq Khan, of Labour. In this piece we explore what their sustainability and environmental commitments will mean for the future of London.

There is a degree of commonality amongst the major parties; with unilateral agreement on a number of positive policies that, if completed, will enhance the city in a number of ways. All of the candidates are focused on providing a more sustainable transport system, which would result in the removal of large container vehicles from the road, increased power to the TfL and ‘Oysterising’ the current Santander cycle system and its equivalent for electric cars.

One issue of contention that has been widely publicised is the provision of another runway. Whilst all of the candidates align on the fact that another runway at Heathrow would be an environmental and economic disaster, Sadiq Khan’s manifesto targets Gatwick as the possible destination. Conversely, Sian Berry, of the Greens, is campaigning for the removal of London City Airport, to be replaced with additional housing and businesses. Whilst this concept may be bemoaned by those in the city who use this as a regular commuting route; the convergence of faster transport links to other major London airports with that of the current London housing crisis means that this policy may be an apt continuation to other East London developments, such as the former Olympic Park, which provide sustainable housing and reduce the increase in urban sprawl.

The link between sustainable transport and air quality is inextricable. Over 1,000 premature deaths have been attributed to long term exposure to PM2.5 in the first four months of the year alone. 66% of this particulate matter is produced through ground based transport, of which 54% can be accounted to cars. The Ultra-Low Emission Zone is due to be implemented in 2020 as a measure to address the issue. Currently, all of the candidates have pledged to bring this date forward except Zac Goldsmith. Additionally, along with Sadiq Khan, neither manifesto has plans to increase congestion charge in their potential forthcoming term. This exertion of pressure on private vehicles is seen by many as a necessary manoeuvre if we are to see a transition to a healthier city of the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

All candidates have pledged to protect and enhance London’s green spaces for nature. In addition, all, with the exception of Caroline Pidgeon, have committed to supporting the London National Park City initiative as well as promoting strengthened protection for the green belt and London green grid. Notable ecological commitments also include Zac Goldsmith’s pledge to fund pocket parks and city farms, and proposals to ensure improved funding for the Met’s wildlife crime unit from Sian Berry and Sadiq Khan. The Greens, Tories and Labour will all see more stringent planning guidance relating to nature conservation and biodiversity gains, with the Greens in particular leading the way on commitments to incorporate nature with the built environment.  

Zac Goldsmith was the final of the candidates to support the London Pension Authority Fund’s divestment from fossil fuel, a motion that was rejected by Boris Johnson in City Hall a year ago. This consideration of both local and global environmental issues by all of the candidates should be applauded; however, with the referendum for the possible EU departure also fast approaching, has Mr. Goldsmith’s support for the ‘leave’ campaign set himself at a disadvantage for those sustainability-minded voters?

Picture credit: London24.com