Breathe Book Review – Sadiq Khan’s Memoir

Sadiq Khan has published a book entitled Breathe. It is partly biographical and partly a polemic about air pollution and climate change.

He explains how he became interested in air pollution in London after training for the London marathon and developing “late-onset” asthma. He blames it solely on London’s poor air quality in the streets on which he trained.

He also covers the case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah but misreports what the coroner said about the cause of her death. Air pollution was probably a contributory factor as she lived near the South Circular which is very heavily polluted but certainly not the sole cause.

He also makes inaccurate comments about the Blackwall Tunnel suggesting that the bends in the tunnel were designed so that horses did not bolt for the exit when they saw the daylight. I have seen this allegation about the Rotherhithe Tunnel which also has sharp bends but I doubt it is true. Wikipedia says the Blackwall tunnel has bends in order that the tunnel could align with Northumberland Wharf to the north and Ordnance Wharf to the south, and avoid a sewer underneath Bedford Street.

The book attempts to link air pollution to action on climate change but does not provide any evidence to support that. Indeed the book is short on supporting data and is hardly a scientific exposition of the issues.

Neither does Sadiq Khan look at the economic cost of his policies and why a lot of the justification was the need to bail out TfL by raising taxes via such schemes as the ULEZ.  He claims that the ULEZ had a major impact on the air pollution in London while ignoring the impact of central Government policies, the improvements to vehicles and the impact of the pandemic on reducing traffic.

But he does explain how scaring the population by emphasising the negative health impacts of air pollution has helped him to win election.

On the issue of LTNs, he alleges that the vocal public opposition has been stimulated by hostile media while arguing the bulk of residents support them. How wrong he is!

He covers his recent alleged heart attack in Glasgow and it’s difficult not to conclude from the length he spends on his medical problems that he is a hypochondriac.

The book will only be of interest to those who want an explanation of how Sadiq Khan got elected as Mayor of London by scaremongering about air pollution and climate change. But he does point out the weaknesses and mistakes of his opponents. Hopefully new candidates can learn from this book.

Roger Lawson

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Speed Limits are Not Rational

After the Archbishop of Canterbury was fined for exceeding a 20 mph speed limit on London’s Embankment, we now have Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitting she broke a speed limit when Justice Secretary last summer. Is this a big deal that the media should be fawning over? I don’t think so.

It’s just another example of legislation that has turned speeding offences into a money-making scam by the offer of Speed Awareness Courses by the police.

The 20 mph limits that are spreading over most of London have not been set on any rational, scientific analysis of the benefits of speed limits and their enforcement. All that is happening is that responsible citizens are being prosecuted for trivial offences that have not harmed anyone.

But irrationally lower speed limits just add to the traffic congestion in London and degrade the road network.

Roger Lawson

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Two Petitions We Supported to be Debated in Parliament

The two petitions are requesting the revoking of powers to charge for CAZ, LEZ and ULEZ schemes and amend the 1999 GLA Act to remove the Mayor of London’s powers to impose road user charging.

Both petitions got enough signatures to justify debates in Parliament which will take place on the 26th June. Please encourage your MP to attend and give their views.

These may appear to be technical matters but this legislation has enabled local councils and Sadiq Khan to raise very large amounts of tax which are totally unjustified.

Don’t let MPs fob you off with excuses about the need to cut traffic congestion and save the planet from global warming by cutting vehicle emissions. It’s all about money, not the environment.

You should be able to watch the debates on the Parliament TV BBC Channel.

Roger Lawson

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Howard Cox Standing for Mayor of London

Howard Cox has announced that he will be the Reform Party candidate for Mayor of London next May. As the founder of FairFuelUK which has been very active in promoting the interests of motorists, with successful campaigns, he should give Sadiq Khan a good challenge.

Mr Cox has promised to scrap the ULEZ scheme and LTNs. He will certainly get my vote and surely stands a good chance of getting a significant proportion of the votes of Londoners, particularly in outer London.

Telegraph article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/05/09/reform-reveals-london-mayor-candidate-is-fuel-campaigner/

 Roger Lawson

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South Circular to be Improved?

Lewisham Council have plans to improve the South Circular Road (A205) in London by removing the gyratory system. They may get funding from TfL to do the work. Proposals to do this have been planned for several years so as to relieve the traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and improve road safety. But money has always been the problem.

An artists impression of how Catford Road might look in future is above.

Anyone who use this road should respond to the public consultation which you can do here: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/catford-town-centre

Some bus routes will be affected and bus stop bypasses will be implemented which many people dislike. In order to achieve the Councils “vision” they are proposing changes to the road layout of the South Circular Road, moving Catford Road to the south side of Laurence House and removing the one-way system around Plassy Island. They claim this will make it easier for people to walk, cycle and use public transport in and around the town centre. It will also enable the Council to provide new pedestrian public space and help create a green, largely car-free town centre, with new trees and planting. But some parking provision will be removed.

The proposals include some “shared space” ideas to which many people object.

There is very little information provided on the likely improvement (if any) in local air quality and no information on the changes in traffic flows. It’s a useless document to obtain informed responses.

Comment: This looks like another scheme similar to that imposed on Lewisham town centre which has made traffic congestion worse. Certainly Catford town centre was well overdue for improvement but it is unclear whether this proposal will help.

But do submit your own comments.

Roger Lawson

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Politics and Technology Problems

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post. Too busy sorting out some technical problems and keeping up with medical issues – I just booked my seventh Covid vaccination which does not scare me. But I would like to comment on some topical issues.

Should Dominic Raab have been fired, or encouraged to resign, which is the same thing in reality? There is one simple question to answer which is “would you like to work for him as a boss?”. My answer would be an undoubted “no”.

Leaders who wish to get things done need to be popular to some extent at least if they wish to have people work hard and follow the policies laid down. You certainly can’t get people to do what you want by bullying them.

Raab was apparently warned several times about his behaviour so the final outcome was hardly unexpected. In any organisation, and Government is no different, you have to have consensus and leadership by example. If Raab could not get Civil Service staff to do what he wanted then he needed to change his approach.

My first technical problem was that BT and Microsoft decided to stop supporting POP email clients, for alleged security reasons after 20 years. That meant potentially losing access to thousands of older emails I have received over the last 15 years. No workarounds provided unless I paid them money. I am very unhappy about being treated in this way and Outlook on the web is not nearly as good as Outlook 2016 as a local client.

My latest technical problem was configuring and learning how to use a new Samsung smartwatch (a Galaxy 4). This is replacing an older Huawei smartwatch which did basic functions very well but was not really compatible with the Apple i-Phone I currently use. I don’t like Apple watches – too expensive and I prefer a more traditional design. The Galaxy watch is also incompatible but you have to read the very small print on their web site to discover that. You even need a Samsung phone to set it up which is ridiculous. The user interface is horribly complex and it’s taken me hours to learn all the functions and configure it. Watches should be installable in a few minutes, not hours, and all common phones should be supported.

That’s the rant over for today.

I was alerted by the new emergency phone alarm just now. I presume that’s in case Russia launches World War 3, and we get 3 minutes warning of a nuclear attack. Reminds me of the 1960s but most people decided then that there was not much to do in 3 minutes except hide under a table.

Meanwhile Sadiq Khan is pushing ahead with the ULEZ expansion despite widespread public opposition. Financially it makes no sense and it will make no difference to air quality in the outer London boroughs. There will be a legal challenge in the High Court in July but I am not very hopeful of a successful outcome. But it’s worth supporting anyway.

The only way you can remove idiots like Sadiq Kahn is at the ballot box.

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ULEZ Legal Case and Potholes

As has been widely reported in the national media, a judge in the High Court has approved a full judicial review hearing of the case brought by 5 London Boroughs against the ULEZ expansion. But only on two of the five grounds put forward. The defective and misleading public consultation is not going to be considered which is disappointing. But it is a step forward nevertheless.

The case is likely to be heard in July. Sadiq Khan has vowed to push ahead with implementation including the installation of the thousands of extra enforcement cameras. So he could be wasting a lot of money, but that’s the way he manages the finances of TfL.

I happened to take a trip down the M20 today. There are so many potholes on the road between the M25 junction and West Malling that it really should not be considered fit to be called a motorway. I have complained to National Highways (see  https://report.nationalhighways.co.uk/report/new?longitude=0.195740&latitude=51.387968). I suggest other people who use the road do likewise.

Even when the road is repaired it is not done properly so the potholes soon reappear. This is a problem nationally on motorways and major roads and also on local roads that are the responsibility of local councils (in London in the boroughs – who often use “Fix My Street” services – for Bromley see: https://fix.bromley.gov.uk/ ).

Even Bromley who have been good a fixing reported problems in previous years have got substantially worse in doing so of late.

If your vehicle is damaged from hitting a pothole you can submit a financial claim if someone has previously reported it so it is important to report all such problems!

P.S. There is a petition on Change.org on this subject which is worth signing – see https://chng.it/pndpFWqwTR

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The Death of Lord Lawson

The media is awash with tributes on the death of Nigel Lawson. A tax cutting chancellor who reinvigorated the UK economy and was a bulwark of Thatcherism. He denationalised whole swathes of UK industry and was subsequently active in support of Britain leaving the EU. He also served as chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank which opposed some of the extreme environmental measures now being pushed through by a Conservative Government. 

He also said about traffic conditions in London that changes have done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz. He was referring to the “Mayor’s addiction to cycling” and the introduction of the Cycle Superhighways by Boris Johnson and Transport for London.

In summary a highly intelligent and influential politician.

Note: I am no relation to him but people regularly call me Nigel when they can’t recall my first name. Hopefully that will be less frequent in future.       

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20 MPH Limits in London and Traffic Speeds

Transport for London (TfL) have imposed 20 mph speed limits on a number of London’s main A roads. To quote from their press release: “20mph speed limits will be introduced across 28km of roads within the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney, Haringey and Tower Hamlets from 31 March……TfL data shows 20mph speed limits are making London’s roads safer and have led to a 25 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries within the central London Congestion Charging Zone… Lower speed limits play a critical role in the Mayor’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate deaths and serious injury on the transport network”.

The data they provide to support these claims is both selective and inaccurate (see their press release below).

Their claims are grossly misleading about the benefit of 20 mph limits as other studies have shown no benefit. As we have pointed out before, Vision Zero is not working because it focuses too much on speed.

This is just another example of how the Mayor of London and certain boroughs plan to get rid of motorists altogether in London. The ULEZ expansion is also part of the plan. Cars are not being banned, just made unusable for many practical purposes. This is a typical diversionary tactic of politicians when banning something outright would be seen as totally unacceptable.

And just consider the plight of taxi/PHV drivers who could lose their licenses and jobs after being caught a few times for driving at 22 mph on TfL roads.

As evidence of how damaging the reign of Sadiq Khan has been to London’s road network, the table below gives the historic trends for average traffic speeds in London. It’s now less than 10 mph in central London!

TfL Press Release: https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2023/march/roads-across-london-to-be-made-safer-with-28km-of-new-20mph-speed-limits-on-tfl-roads       

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ULEZ Asthma Impact

The following is an article written by Michael Simons on the likely impact of the ULEZ expansion on the incidence of asthma. It is a very good summary of the causes of asthma and the negligible impact that the ULEZ will have on it.

What Impact Would ULEZ Expansion Have on Asthma and COPD Cases?

The Mayor of London does not justify his plan to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone to outer London by referring to the official Integrated Impact Assessment1 projections – the Impact Assessment forecasts only very small health benefits – instead, the Mayor relies on rhetoric and anecdotal stories, mainly centred around asthma, and childhood asthma in particular.

So what is known about asthma in London in the context of air pollution, and particularly pollution by nitrogen dioxide, NO2, the main target of ULEZ?

Asthma Mortality:

The Office of National Statistics, responding to a freedom of information request, gave the following numbers for total child asthma deaths in London2:

  YearAged under 1  1 to 4  5 to 9  10-14  15-19Total 0-19
2013 0 0 2 204
2014011204
2015002114
2016010012
2017002226
20180125311
2019001203
2020001001

There are multiple known causes and triggers for asthma, so most of this tiny number of cases may not have resulted from air pollution anyway. For instance, hot weather is a recognised aggravating factor, and 2018 had a particularly hot summer, which might account for the higher number that year. While every child’s death is an individual tragedy, in the administrative context of a population of over 9 million, these numbers are vanishingly small, and so would be any marginal improvement from ULEZ expansion.

Asthma Hospital Admissions:

A 2022 report from the Imperial College Environmental Research Group3 presents estimates of the number of hospital admissions for asthma. It states that:

“ Exacerbation of asthma by air pollution is estimated to lead to around 700 asthma admissions from  2017 – 2019 in children in London, 7% of all asthma admissions in children in London. (Asthma admissions may have more than one cause e.g. air pollution may worsen response to an allergen.)”

This was over 3 years, so the average annual number was 233. Note that, as stated, this number accounts for just 7% of child asthma admissions. Note also that the headline announcement by City Hall of 3600 child asthma admissions in 2021/22 referred to all-cause admissions, not pollution-exacerbated admissions. (Asthma has many causes and triggers, including indoor pollution, mould, dust mite, household chemicals, outdoor pollution, pollen, cold weather, hot weather, and hereditary factors – see the Appendix). This is an important distinction to bear in mind.

The Imperial College report also gives an estimate of the percentage change in admissions per 10 µg m-3 change of pollutant concentration. For nitrogen dioxide, NO2, and children aged 0-14, this value is 3.9% per 10 µg m-3 (p11 of the report).

The likely reduction in NO2 levels from expansion of ULEZ into outer London is not clear. The Integrated Impact Assessment gives a reduction of 6.9% in emissions, and a 1.4% reduction in NO2 level when population-weighted. For simplicity and transparency in the arithmetic, we will illustrate the reduction in admissions expected from a 10% decrease in NO2 levels in outer London, well above those estimates.

Roadside levels4 (within 5 metres of a busy main road) of NO2 in October 2022 were 28 µg m-3, and background levels (away from busy traffic) levels were 19 µg m-3. Most residents in outer London live well away from busy main roads, so we will adopt an effective value of 22 µg m-3.

A 10% notional ULEZ reduction is a reduction of 2.2 µg m-3. Since a 10 µg m-3 reduction in NO2 level is estimated to reduce child asthma emissions by 3.9%, the ULEZ reduction in NO2 level will bring about a proportionate reduction in admissions of 2.2/10×3.9 = 0.86%.

0.86% of 233 gives a reduction of just TWO hospital admissions per year across the whole of London.

And note we are talking about hospital admissions, not deaths.

Asthma/COPD Admissions for over-64’s

The numbers associated with the 15 – 64 year age group in the report are lower all round and give a much smaller result, so we will not report further on these.

For the over 65 age group asthma was combined with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) because it is difficult to clinically distinguish between the two conditions. In this case, the report estimates 900 admissions over the 3 years, or 300 cases per year. For COPD/asthma in the over-64’s the percentage change in admissions per 10 µg m-3 change of pollutant concentration was estimated at 1.42%. The same NO2 levels apply as before.

Applying the same process as above, the % reduction in admissions will be 2.2/10×1.42 = 0.31%. 0.31% of 300 = 0.94, or rounding up, ONE less admission per year across the whole of London.

Comparison with the Integrated Impact Assessment

The Jacobs Integrated Impact Assessment1 considered the decrease in health burden expected from expanding the ULEZ zone. It did not give estimates for asthma hospital admissions, only “incidences” (undefined). However it did give estimates for Respiratory Hospital Admissions, a term which includes asthma, and in Table 6-2, p73, it estimates that the extended ULEZ scheme would reduce annual London- wide hospital admissions from 2122 to 2086, a decrease of 26 cases or 1.2%.

A decrease of 26 cases across a city of over 9 million people is still a very small number. There are 33 boroughs in Greater London, so that averages out at less than one hospital admission fewer per borough per year. Again, a negligible benefit.

Conclusions

There appears to be no credible evidence that the expansion of the ULEZ into outer London would produce anything more than insignificant health benefits in asthma – or other respiratory diseases for that matter. We identify in this report three separate and credible sources which point to the negligible benefits which might be expected.

Vague statements and political histrionics about suffering children are a misleading way to inform public policy in this area. Proper analysis is required, especially when the policy carries heavy costs for society, as ULEZ certainly does. And these analyses point to ULEZ expansion doing effectively nothing for asthma.

Appendix

The NHS information sheet on asthma states:

The exact cause of asthma is unknown.

People with asthma have swollen (inflamed) and “sensitive” airways that become narrow and clogged with sticky mucus in response to certain triggers.

Genetics, pollution and modern hygiene standards have been suggested as causes, but there’s not currently enough evidence to know if any of these do cause asthma.

Who’s at risk

A number of things can increase your chances of getting asthma. These include:

  • having an allergy-related condition, such as eczema, a food allergy or hay fever – these are known as atopic conditions
  • having a family history of asthma or atopic conditions
  • having had bronchiolitis – a common childhood lung infection
  • exposure to tobacco smoke as a child
  • your mother smoking during pregnancy
  • being born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or with a low birth weight Some people may also be at risk of developing asthma through their job.
  • Asthma triggers

Asthma symptoms often occur in response to a trigger. Common triggers include:

  • infections like colds and flu
  • allergies – such as to pollen, dust mites, animal fur or feathers
  • smoke, fumes and pollution
  • medicines such as anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin
  • emotions including stress, or laughter
  • weather – such as sudden changes in temperature, cold air, wind, thunderstorms, heat and humidity
  • Mould or damp
  • Exercise

References

  1. downloadable at https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/1561 9/widgets/44946/documents/27025
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/childhoo  dasthmainlondon2006to2020
  3. https://www.imperial.ac.uk/school-public-health/environmental-research-group/research/air-  pollution-epidemiology/air-pollution-and-asthma-in-london-2016-2019/
  4. https://www.london.gov.uk/programmes-strategies/environment-and-climate-  change/environment-and-climate-change-publications/inner-london-ultra-low-emission-zone-  expansion-one-year-report
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/asthma/causes/

Michael Simons, March 2023     (Dr Michael Simons PhD, MRSC)

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