E-hustings on Air Pollution for the Gospel Oak by-election: Full Responses

Camden Air Action asked all five candidates in the Gospel Oak by-election to respond to six questions on air pollution in Camden. Here are their full responses. Please see the press release containing our top observations here.

  1. What is your view of the Mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone ?
    Dee Searle (Green) To be honest I’m disappointed. The Mayor’s measures are too limited and are based on a far slower timetable than that demanded by the public health emergency facing London from filthy air, which accounts for nearly 9,500 deaths a year. He is actually breaking a manifesto pledge and his subsequent promise to introduce a London-wide Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) for buses, coaches and lorries ‘as early as 2019’.

    The Mayor has announced a ULEZ based on higher fees for the most polluting vehicles in the current Congestion Charge area of central London, starting April next year. But this could actually make air pollution worse in areas outside of the zone, such as much of Camden. We would have to wait until 2020 or even 2021 before including other polluting vehicles and potentially extending the zone to the North and South Circular Roads.

    The Mayor needs to be bolder. He should include other polluting vehicles in the ULEZ when it is introduced in April 2019 and extend the zone then, not just to the North and South Circular Roads, but to cover all of London (otherwise his plans could cause misery to communities lying just outside the ring road). He should also ban diesel vehicles from central London, rather than simply taxing drivers who can afford to carry on polluting our streets.

    Motorists have a choice where they drive and have the option of using a different form of transport. Most pedestrians and cyclists do not. If the Mayor wants to make our streets healthier for all and to encourage non-polluting forms of transport, such as walking and cycling, he must act decisively now.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) The ULEZ is a good idea, however I would like to see it phased in earlier at a lower rate, with the full surcharge introduced as planned in 2020.
    Drivers need to be informed early that changes are happening, the reasons why and allow time to plan.
    Many people will only become aware of the change in 2020 when the charge is actually introduced. This means that there will be 3 years of purchasing decisions made by individual drivers, which might have been different if they were aware of the changes earlier.
    The best way of increasing awareness is to introduce a very small surcharge as soon as possible (with minimal, or no penalties if breached at the outset).
    There should also be a phased extension to Low & Ultra Low Emission Zones, these measures should be introduced and coordinated with other measures being considered by local authorities.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) I agree with the Mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emmission Zone. But I see it only as an initial step. I feel we should go beyond the proposed boundaries, out past the North Circular.

    I absolutely agree that we need to drastically reduce NO2 and air pollution and a key way to do this is to ban diesel in London. But this requires central govt action to 1) produce a proper action plan, 2) to provide cash to regional and local govt and 3), local govt needs proper powers so they can, for example, place check points to stop the most polluting vehicles.

    There should definitely be Govt action to adopt the diesel scrappage scheme and place charges for the most polluting vehicles – by increasing fuel duty.

    Marx de Morais (Conservative) The Mayor promises much, which in the end turns out to be a broken promise. The ULE Zone is planned to come into full force in September 2020. Is this supposed to be ambitious?
The industry itself is working on more ambitious and far-reaching solutions. I expect from our Mayor to get involved with them and support and promote appropriate ideas.
    Giles Game (UKIP) It will help improve emissions standards for London’s motor traffic and so I support it fully (and am pleased it has been brought forward).
  2. What do you consider the most important areas of work in Camden Council’s agreed Clean Air Action Plan and what action will you take to ensure Camden Council plays its part in improving air in the borough?
    Dee Searle (Green) Camden Council rightly identifies road transport as the single biggest source of air pollution in the borough. However, the council’s response to reducing traffic-based pollution is feeble and complacent. The Clean Air Action Plan talks of ‘exploring’, ‘reviewing’ and ‘continuing existing measures’ but contains few commitments to introduce new measures with any clear deadlines.

    If I were elected to the council, to join Sian Berry, Camden’s existing Green councillor, I would work with her to:
    – Bring in a levy on workplace parking provided by employers to deter people driving to work across Camden.
    – Develop site-specific traffic calming and other measures to stop rat-running through residential areas.
    – Establish more play streets near schools and in residential areas in consultation with parents and residents.
    – Get serious about tackling idling by parked cars at hotspots (such as outside schools and during deliveries). Camden’s voluntary scheme isn’t working. We need parking wardens to issue warnings and fines as in some other London boroughs such as Westminster.
    – Introduce more local and Camden-wide safer routes for cycling and walking in consultation with local cycling groups, residents associations and other community groups.
    – Plant more trees and introduce pocket parks and more greening in the most polluted neighbourhoods to clean the air and make neighbourhoods more liveable.
    – Develop more healthy school streets programmes, including temporary road closures, to persuade parents not to use their cars to drop off and pick up their children
    – Ensure new housing developments do not contain car-parking provision
    – Reduce the quantity of residents’ on-street parking bays across the borough by at least 10 per cent and replace them with pocket parks, trees or other green measures.

    Non-transport-related measures would include getting tougher on construction site pollution. At the moment, because of lack of resources, Camden only checks on a construction site if there is evidence that it is breaking its own construction plan. I would explore whether the council could introduce a Clean Air Levy on new developments to fund extra environmental health officers to carry out snap inspections.

    I would introduce a requirement that all new housing developments have collective heating and hot water provision rather than individual boilers, which can add to air pollution as they age and if they are not properly maintained. I would also launch a public information campaign to deter residents from installing wood-burning stoves, which can add substantially to local air pollution.

    As lone Green Party councillor, Sian has already made an impact on Camden’s air quality, such as the increase in the diesel surcharge proposed for the 2016/17 council budget (which she persuaded the lone Liberal Democrat councillor to support). It was adopted – although a year later than originally proposed. If we had two Green councillors we could make a far bigger impact by developing, proposing and seconding measures like those listed above and shaming the council into adopting them.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) Camden’s Clean Air Action Plan is a comprehensive list of everything. However it is not what I’d call a plan, it is a long list of things that should be done, but fails to provide a focus on those activities that provide the greatest benefit.
    It fails to provide a quantitative assessment of each of the many measures that could be tackled by the council. It fails to provides time scales or how the plan might be measured.
    The council could have included much more emphasis on what the council could do, via their own procurement, contracts, awarding of planning permissions etc.
    To summarise, the majority of the information and where to act is available but the council has failed to turn ideas into a measurable plan with timescales for delivery.
    The council should be focusing initial activities on those areas of air pollution that have the biggest affect over the shortest timescales. The council should restructure their procurement & contracts to ensure pollution is minimized.
    The council should also have an engagement plan with other stakeholders: national Government; The Mayors office; industry; other local councils; vehicle manufactures and residents on what each group could/ should be doing. For example we would want to see London Councils pressing their local MPs to introduce private members bill(s) to tackle the air pollution issue and to lobby for inclusion in national party manifesto’s.
    Priorities should include: Pushing for tighter emissions for all vehicles, back calls for increasing taxes on diesel fuels, back a diesel scrappage scheme, prevent diesel back up generators from being built in generators, tackle emissions from gas boilers (this may include using planning conditions on new build developments), restrict the most polluting vehicles from entering London (working with other agencies), press to accelerate the cleaning up of the taxi fleet including minicabs and delivery drivers, apply pressure to clean up the bus fleet.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) I think the most important areas of work in the Clean Air Action Plan are, in order:
    1 Reducing emission from transport
    2 Monitoring air quality
    3 Raising awareness
    4 Lobbying and partnership working
    5 Reducing emissions and partnership workingI am absolutely prepared to work in partnership with local volunteer groups to and lobby for the best possible outcome. I should say I don’t know everything that might be covered by this issue but I would be very glad to take advice and cues from local groups and lobby for action and money.
    Marx de Morais (Conservative) Up until now, Camden offers many ideas, but it lacks the implementation. I even think and will work for more innovative solutions. I will work hard that Gospel Oak joins the National Park City initiative. Why it should not be possible to make Gospel Oak a pioneer of sustainability, without dictation from the Town Hall, but through close collaboration from us as a community. For example, the Council could provide the flat roofs of its own properties for the installation of solar systems. ….
    Let me start by saying that I think the local authority role here is necessarily limited.
    Giles Game (UKIP) Major, historic changes to our air quality (Clean Air Act, removal of lead from petrol, emissions standards) have had to be organized at the national level. London initiatives such as the CC zone, the ULEZ and setting standards for buses and taxis come from the Mayor / TfL. While power over public policy in this area is disposed as it is, therefore, we run the risk of squandering borough-level time and resources over matters which no local authority has the ability to control.

    On a similar top-level point, central London will always have more traffic, both public and private, than the outer areas as a function of population density and access need. This variability is reflected perfectly within our own borough: compare the Euston Road to Hampstead Heath! Those of us living in the middle of big cities surely accept this to some extent as common sense. From a policy perspective it worries me that the Action Plan seems to ignore this by resorting to the meaningless comparison of incomparable averages.

    So apart from supporting relevant London-level and national policies, what can a local authority sensibly do here?

    1) Get its own house in order. The parts of the Action Plan which touch on this, regarding council vehicles and construction rules for example, merit support.

    2) Use street-level planning to improve traffic flow, not impede it. The assertion accompanying point 23 of the Plan that taking measures to encourage cycling and walking de facto reduces congestion is arguable in this context, since in practice this can mean nothing more than blocking selected streets off to motor traffic, causing nasty, fume-producing gridlock.

    To take a large-scale example of this we are told that the Regent’s Park might soon be closed to traffic, supposedly to benefit cyclists and pedestrians. What do the planners think that might do to the already heaving north-south A-roads and their surrounding arteries? I and many others who live nearby, and understand all the issues firsthand, have protested about this but it is such an obviously silly idea it is breathtaking that it was even considered to begin with.

    3) Explore ways of improving air quality at the micro level around vulnerable locations such as schools and hospitals. At our sons’ school this has meant closing the road to traffic when the school gates are open for example, which as well as contributing to air quality – including by discouraging parents from driving to the school – addresses potential safety concerns too.

  3. The uptake of electric cars is currently hampered by a lack of on-road charging points (just 1 in Gospel Oak ward).  Charging points should be provided across the ward, located on pavement build-outs, so as not to reduce space for pedestrians/introduce trip hazards.  What is your target for electric car charging points in Gospel Oak by May 2018?
    Dee Searle (Green) I have to confess that I am slightly ambivalent towards electric cars. They are less polluting than conventional vehicles but are more expensive, so are out of reach of many Gospel Oak residents, and most of them are relatively large, so they can dominate the streets. They also do not necessarily facilitate the needed shift from motor transport to walking and cycling. In addition electric cars are not necessarily a fast solution because many motorists would wait until their existing car dies or for their standard trade-in cycle before making a switch.

    Before rushing to introduce more general charging stations in Gospel Oak ward I would invite tenders from companies and social businesses supplying electric car clubs (such as Drive Now, which has a partnership with Islington and Haringey). I would aim to introduce a pilot project with up to four electric car club charging bays across the ward by April 2018. Evidence shows that car clubs reduce the overall numbers of car journeys and are more widely affordable.

    I don’t rule out introducing more council-run charging points but would like to explore more generally accessible alternatives first.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) There are two issues that should be tackled to provide on-road charging. CAA’s question only address one of the issues.
    My ambition would be for 25% of all public parking spaces be equipped with charging points by the end of 2018 and 50% by the end of 2020. Only with infrastructure provision will uptake of electric vehicles take-off.
    I would not have a blanket policy to provide pavement build-outs as there will always be exceptions/ space limitations that may make the build-out impractical. However I would have and assumption to include pavement build-outs whenever it is possible to do so.
    The second issue is how to allow/ encourage Camden residents to have their own vehicle charging from their own domestic power supplies. The council should write, consult and implement a policy on how electric charging from individual domestic supplies can be implemented by the individual without extensive, lengthy and costly application processes. The policy would need to include issues such as depth of cable, lifting and replacement of paving stones, size & location of charging point, safety. The council might develop a list of approved local contractors to undertake the work or an inspector who inspects the work at critical times.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) I know that Camden Council has robust electric charging point program – not least to prepare for new electrified London taxis which come online this year to meet the Mayor’s zero emission capable legislation which comes into force in January 2018.

    Camden are in the process of trialling a new style of ordinary electric car charging points using funding from Source London.

    I will lobby to increase the number of charging points in Gospel Oak but realistically I don’t think we will be able to promise more than one other charging point. Obviously this is not enough and I will look for every opportunity to get more into the area.

    Marx de Morais (Conservative) I am going to work for it and remind Camden`s Labour lead Council and Cabinet that we have a general problem with charging points especially all over the North of our Borough. Here, the Council must work closely with Source London to find solutions.

    Another step is to inform the local residents that the central government is offering various support to the purchase and installation of domestic charge points.

    Giles Game (UKIP) Interesting. I actually disagree with you on this one I’m afraid! E-cars are a nascent technology that still faces problems. And cluttering every pavement in sight with charging points would not answer them.

    The key issue has always been that it takes only a few minutes to fill a car with petrol while it takes hours to charge an e-car’s batteries. So it isn’t practical to rely on remote charging points on a mass scale . . .

    . . . At least it wasn’t until Rapid DC charging came along with 50kW of zap, able to give a modern e-car enough juice to pootle around London for a week or so after only a few minutes. So a more useful policy would be: allow only the construction of the fastest possible charging points. (The 7kW ones around Gospel Oak are already obsolescent and surrounding them with like-minded friends isn’t going to change that reality: it would only hose away good money after bad.)

    The workable alternative for e-car owners has always been home charging. We might not want to stay at a refueling location for 8 hours but many people are content to remain at home for such periods, especially if we also happen to be asleep. And e-car users who can afford them can also access government-subsidized home charging units that reduce this time dramatically (though not to the extent of Rapid DC).

    For what it’s worth I have a keen interest in this area as an efficiency- as well as performance-minded motorist. (I drive a diesel-electric hybrid and before that drove a petrol-electric hybrid.) When e-cars are at the point where you can drive them to the Lake District on a single charge, and it only takes 10 minutes.

  4. Car ownership in Gospel Oak is very slightly higher than the average for Camden (40.4%, 2011 census).  Access to public transport (PTAL score) is relatively poor.  How will you work to improve transport options for local residents, whilst also reducing fossil-fuelled car ownership and car journeys?
    Dee Searle (Green) My first step would be to survey Gospel Oak residents’ transport needs, which may be different between the north of the ward and the more densely-populated south. These could include younger children going to local schools, older children traveling further afield, commuting to work, doing the weekly shop, leisure trips and so on.

    Armed with this information, we could plan what additional public or shared transport is needed. This could consist of additional school journey buses, provision of electric car clubs (as described above), more secure parking for bicycles, a pilot scheme to provide a hire scheme and/or free residents’ parking for cargo bikes, and possibly a myriad of other ideas arising from the local community – who are best placed to know their transport needs and how to satisfy them.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) It would be possible for the council to facilitate, by working with external suppliers, an electric vehicle car sharing scheme. Contracts could be developed with providers such as Zip Car.
    A bus route that runs East West linking Swiss Cottage, Belsize Park, Gospel Oak & Tufnell Park stations.
    A TfL cycle hire location close to Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath Stations.
    Long term to increase interconnectivity: A Tufnell Park Station Stop on the Overground. This would mean platforms (near Junction Road) and a walking connection between the new platforms and the existing Tufnell Park station (possibly working in a similar fashion to West Hampstead.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) Car journey’s are falling but nowhere near fast enough. We can further reduce car journeys…
    By working with schools, teachers, governers,
    Increasing the number of road closures at peak times – as we have done on Macklin Street.
    And increase the number of play streets, following the great examples of Rochester Square’s regular play street initiative.I know I need to speak to local schools, parents and governors to promote the idea and hopefully to get parents to agree.As a regular cyclist myself, doing at least 2 journeys a day, I know the value of cycle lock up points. I will work hard to increase the number of these and of cycle racks.I will look for a way of oncreasing the number of segregated cycle lanes in Gospel Oak – as I know that at the moment there aren’t any at all!Finally, the Queens Crescent Market is a priority for me. At the moment takes place twice a week and the road is closed on these days. I will look to increase the number of market days so that this will also mean taking the road out of action for one more day.
    Marx de Morais (Conservative) Car ownership in GO is just very slightly higher than in average. That is a positive sign for a ward where the public transport is relatively poor. We need to make sure that we do not see any cuts in the public transport system for Gospel Oak and that the existing bus- and overground, -lines work as well as possible. Promote biking and walking paths.
    Giles Game (UKIP) I believe in allowing people to make their own decisions, and we are already incentivized to use efficient modes of transport in London. However improving access to public transport, where possible, is good news where it isn’t outweighed by increased disruption / congestion etc. so this is something I would happily pursue in concert with TfL.

    That said, Gospel Oak is not so badly served. There is the Overground at Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak stations, the Underground at Belsize Park, buses on Haverstock Hill and further bus routes cutting through the ward on Malden Road and Mansfield Road etc. Given that there would be little scope for putting in an extra Tube station, public transport improvements would in practice centre on the buses (route changes and / or extra stops) and I would certainly help intermediate for residents on those kinds of matters.

  5. Camden Council imposes a diesel surcharge on residents’ parking permits of £53.05 p.a.  However, unlike Westminster, there is no surcharge for visitors.  Please outline your proposals for discouraging the use of diesel vehicles by both residents and visitors to the borough.
    Dee Searle (Green) I have sympathy with Camden residents who bought diesel vehicles on the assumption that they were less polluting and more efficient than petrol vehicles. To discourage use of diesel cars by residents, I would ensure the diesel surcharge rises by at least inflation on existing permits and introduce a 50 per cent surcharge for residents’ parking permits for first-time registering of diesel cars (both new and second-hand) from April 2018.

    Westminster Council is trialing a scheme to add a 50 per cent surcharge to visitors’ parking fees. I would introduce the same surcharge to visitors’ parking fees in Camden and liaise with Westminster and other neighbouring boroughs to try to bring visitors’ diesel parking charges in line so we are not simply shifting the problem across borough boundaries.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) Introduce a parking surcharge for visitors using diesel cars.
    Publish, consult and inform how surcharges for residents will increase over time.
    Lobby the national government to assist those on lower incomes to change to a non-diesel car.
    Camden council to commit to procure and operate low emission vehicles, to become involved in trials of new vehicle types such as electric vans or fuel cell hybrid vans as they become available.
    Work with the Mayor & other London boroughs to introduce coordinated action (as air pollution does not stop at borough boundary’s
    An active plan to increase the number of trees in the borough as they are affective at removing pollutants.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) Alongside other Labour Councillors I will work to introduce a surcharge for all parking by drivers originating outside Camden. By the end of this year Camden Council is introducing a surcharge for commuting traffic coming from outside London for pay and display bays.

    I will strongly encourage other Labour Councillors to introduce a surcharge for ALL commuting traffic – including visitor and business traffic.

    Marx de Morais (Conservative) Inventing a similar system as in conservative run Westminster. An emissions-based charging system for diesel cars parking could be set to trial around schools and if successful be expanded.
    Giles Game (UKIP) As a rule I favour information-based regulation and intelligent planning over tax-raising initiatives since these can tend to be driven more by the opportunity to raise revenue than by a genuine commitment to outcomes (Damian McBride’s book “Power Trip” has some excellent material on this subject). But if there is a real need to disincentivize diesel use now the Westminster scheme does sound promising.
  6. According to recent TfL modelling, air quality at 4 out of 5 primary schools in Gospel Oak is illegal, and of a quality that impairs lung development and can lead to life-long health impacts:
    School NO2 level μg/m3
    St Dominic’s Catholic Primary 45.9
    Fleet Primary 47.0
    Gospel Oak 41.9
    La Petite Ecole Bilingue 40.2
    Carlton Primary 38.5

    What concrete actions will you be lobbying for, that will improve the air these young children breathe?

    Dee Searle (Green) I understand that the first round of Camden Air Action’s project to monitor nitrogen dioxide levels outside all of Camden’s schools (which I helped to coordinate) provides an even more worrying picture than the modeling, with the worst being Gospel Oak at 51 μg/m3 NO2, Camden Pupil Referral Unit at 48 μg/m3 NO2, Fleet at 46 μg/m3 NO2 and St Dominic’s at 45 μg/m3 NO2.

    All of these schools are on busy bus routes, where pollution is likely to be from a combination of parents dropping off children by car and through traffic. Therefore a significant improvement to air quality will only be achieved through a holistic approach of actively discouraging parents from making the school run by car (through information sessions and targeted traffic warden action to tackle illegal parking and idling) and wider traffic management.

    I would start the wider traffic management with Gospel Oak, CPRU and Fleet, as a cluster of nearby schools suffering the most polluted air and where piecemeal traffic management could inadvertently make matters worse. I would work with Camden’s transport planners to pilot a tidal traffic flow system along Gordon House, Mansfield and Fleet Roads to ban rush hour private vehicles while allowing buses through. Simultaneous traffic calming would be needed along some nearby residential roads to prevent rat-running.

    There is evidence that such a bold approach works. The tidal system introduced several years ago on Grafton Road has reduced local pollution, with the effect that NO2 levels near Carlton School are now below illegal levels on what was previously a heavily-used rat-run. Learnings from Gospel Oak, CPRU and Fleet could then be applied to St Dominic’s.

    These schemes may seem ambitious and potentially disruptive for through traffic but they are doable and are a step we should take if we are serious about the health and quality of life of our children and families.

    Stephen Crosher (Liberal Democrat) Work with schools to discourage vehicle use for the school run. Use traffic enforcement officers more effectively at peak school times. Working with schools may include small changes at certain times (kids biking or walking routes, temporary suspensions outside schools to vehicles – where it is possible to do so)
    An active campaign to prevent idling especially in taxi queues, bus/ coach waiting areas, Camden vehicles, outside schools, on construction sites and other ‘hot spots’.Schools should be benchmarked against each other on number of kids who arrive by car (or not). Best practice to be spread from school to school.Traffic enforcement officers should be regular present as schools to prevent idling. There should be information signs at key junctions on the risks of air pollution.
    Marcus Boyland (Labour) Much of our air pollution comes from vehicles doing too many miles. We need fewer dirty vehicles doing fewer miles.

    I will be lobbying all the schools in Gospel Oak to persuade them (parents and teachers) to have play streets (if it’s practical), to also encourage walk to school days and even to close off the roads at peak drop off and pick up hours as we have done in Kentish Town with Islip School.

    I will also promote actions that will encourage anti-idling by buses, taxi cabs and business vehicles.

    Marx de Morais (Conservative) – train teacher and school staff on best ventilation practice
    – where possible making streets on schools one way, to reduce traffic and pollution
    – promote electric only bus routes on streets close to schools most effected from pollution
    – pollution barriers on roadsides of schools
    – If I am elected, I will donate my councillor’s allowance for community projects in Gospel Oak. A part to plant vegetative barriers, where possible with and managed by the pupils themselves, to raise their awareness of this problem.
    – invest in high performance filtration system if other actions will not bring the needed success.
    Giles Game (UKIP) As I said earlier this is something to address through intelligent planning on a case-by-case basis. Fixed hour road closure has worked for our boys’ school but would not do so everywhere (bus routes for instance); parking and loading restrictions could also be considered, etc. It’s something I would seek to consult on with the experts: parents! A more pressing priority for me when it comes to education, however, is the £3.5m Camden is set to lose under the government’s wicked new proposals to redistribute school funding and I would seek to organize more effective opposition to this at the local level.