Thursday, March 05, 2009

Environment Committee

The investigation into air quality continued this morning with witnesses from TfL, the government and local councils.

European Standards

At the last meeting we were assured that London was the most polluted city in Europe and we could expect a big fine from the commission as punishment. Martin Williams, representing DEFRA, provided a different view, suggesting that many European cities were as polluted or worse but - unlike the masochistic Brits - they place their pollution monitors away from the busiest roads, thus giving a better impression, and avoiding the fine.

He questioned the targets for nitrogen dioxide and particulates, stating that in hindsight - with the benefit of recent scientific investigations - these would not have been set so high.

London Takes Action

Isabel Dedring, the mayor's energetic environment advisor, listed the projects being undertaken to improve air quality including:

New buses with cleaner engines
Hybrid buses, using less fuel.
Work on an electric vehicle hire scheme.
Smoothing traffic flow by altering traffic signals, thus reducing pollution.

Particulate traps fitted to buses would help to cut particulate emissions. The first generation of these devices harmed engine performance, particularly in the slow London traffic, and caused protests from black cab drivers who had been forced to fit them. The new generation direct the particles back to the engine, burning them up. Environmentally friendly disposal of the filters remains a problem.

Suspension of Low Emission Zone phase three excited a lot of criticism from Labour and the Greens. We know that the Greens want to return the capital to a cottage economy, but Labour are usually complaining that more needs to be done to bail out failing businesses. LEZ 3 would have required the scrapping of 90,000 commercial vehicles, mostly owned by small businesses and charities. They are now saved the unnecessary cost of replacements. Meanwhile, the mayor is to meet Lord Mandelson tomorrow to press his case for government grants to help businesses clean up their fleets - I hope he sees this as a priority.

Disjointed Thinking

Professor Whitelegg from York University offered us a trenchant appraisal of public sector efforts to improve air quality. In his view there was insufficient cooperative working between agencies and an over reliance on strategy documents that gathered dust after production. Box ticking bureaucracy, without realistic targets or milestones and devoid of any follow up action was his verdict - The level of stupidity is so widespread that it is difficult to see where it emanates from, was the professor's verdict. Ouch!


morris hickey said...

I am not a technical person, but I am advised by those who understand them that hybrid buses can very costly to operate. In particular the electrical components may have short "lives" and can be costly to replace. That is one of the reasons why many places world-wide are opting for trolleybuses in preference to hybrids.

The initial installation for trolleybus operation is costly, as are the vehicles, but costs over the life-time of vehicles (much longer than hybrids) becomes significantly cheaper. Why else would they be so popular in Switzerland? And the overhead wiring of modern systems is much less obtrusive than the former UK systems, with sophisticated electronic systems for changing direction at junctions.

The committee ought to investigate this thoroughly and should certainly not depend solely on what they are told by TfL people who are notoriously anti-trolleybus - and were (probably still are!) very pro-'bendybus'.

morris hickey said...

When the Mayor meets Lord Mandleson if he shakes hands with his lordship then he should count his fingers immediately afterwards.

weggis said...

Would that be Professor John Whitelegg of the Liverpool John Moores University, and leading Green Party member?

I also think that Mr Hickey has a good point on trolley buses.

Roger Evans said...

That's him, Weggis. Does that mean he has a political axe to grind? How disappointing...

Peter Hulme Cross said...

The arguments in favour of modern Trolleybusses are really quite compelling when you look in to them. Unfortunately noone in a position of influence at City Hall seems prepared to do that for some reason. And TfL are completely 'deaf' to anything that is not a bus or a tram.

All this is a great pity and, I suspect, may turn out to be a wasted opportunity.