Joe Carlebach: Diesel Tax will hit those who can’t afford to buy a new car – and so won’t tackle air pollution

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach is a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward.

I have no doubt of the very real problems caused by pollution from many forms of transport that we all take for granted. This specifically includes the huge problem of of aviation emissions and diesel particulates.What I have a problem with is the way our  Labour Council is trying to address this issue.

The way this tax has been constructed will have  a disproportionate impact on those members of our community who can least afford it and that is frankly unfair and unjust.For example I have seen examples of residents on the Council’s Housing waiting list, living on the breadline in overcrowded rented accommodation. They work in the transport industry as taxi drives, many on zero hours contracts.They have to pay for their own vehicles and their own fuel. Some have been forced in recent times to use food banks. These people can simply not afford this tax.

I have had representation from other families, those with disabled children. They must have a car to be able to transport their children around. Many have diesel cars partly because they had been told this was the ‘greenest’ form of transport by the Government in the recent past, and for reasons of economy. They are not entitled to blue badges because their children are mobile but these families are desperately trying to manage  their children’s significant disabilities. These are not wealthy people and again they can ill afford the cruelly escalating tax the Council has seen fit to imposed on them.

We can not ignore the suffering of those with chronic illness as a result of pollution, this is as I understand it, which is apparently the rational for this tax. I am therefore at a loss to understand why the Council has not done more to offer any form of support these residents.

I am told they have not made any effort to work with any of the major health Trusts in our area, improving access and care at respiratory clinics, or paediatric respiratory initiatives in schools or within primary care.This is indeed a missed opportunity.

Neither has the Council done anything to manage or reduce traffic congestion which is now out of control across London and especially in our Borough. Nor have they done anything to incentivise drivers not to leave their engines running whilst stationary, all major contributors to poor air quality.

I very much regret that the Council has chosen to simply tax unfortunate residents ratcheting up the cost until their pain is too much to bare. The Council has also created stress and uncertainty within our community by not making it clear if this new tax is to be levied on diesel vehicles on Estates or parked in Garages on our Estates.In short this is a poorly thought out tax which  has the feeling of political correctness rather than a genuine effort to reduce pollution.

The Council is living in a dream world of they think the many residents who will be hardest hit by this tax can just go out and by another car, never mind an electric one. They simply do not have the money. They can barely get by as it is.There is a perverse logic at work here that impacts least the very wealthy at the cost of those who are significantly financially challenged and are the least able to pay any more in tax. It simply can not be right to clobber the drivers of a small old diesel cars with these spiralling charges knowing that they are unaffordable whilst leaving the drivers of very large new and expensive luxury cars unscathed.

I strongly urge the Council to rethink this unfair tax, to think carefully about its unacceptable impact on those residents who can least afford it and go back to the drawing board. They should do this now before you cause any more distress.

Steve Hamilton: How to tackle air pollution without punishing the poor

stevehamCllr Steve Hamilton is a councillor for Sands End Ward and the Conservative spokesman on transport.

An honest increase in revenue could be taken from increased Council Tax, but the Administration made an election pledge to freeze Council Tax – sorry, they actually made a pledge to cut Council Tax, but did anyone really expect them to keep their pledge?

Instead they have decided to introduce an stealth tax on a third of car owners in the borough – introduced under the cover of clearer air, but intended as a simple revenue increase – they have staggered the tax over a number of years, to reduce the headline figure to ‘just £20’ as they describe it.

This stealth tax is despite one of the recommendations of this Council’s Parking Task Group, which concluded “The Task Group supports the principle of encouraging residents to drive more environmentally friendly-vehicles through reduced parking fees for green vehicles, but not penalising drivers of older, less environmentally-friendly vehicles.”

The fact that this is a tax designed to increase revenue is clear from the cabinet papers – a green measure would talk about the reduced number of vehicles subject to the tax – instead, and I quote from the report “…this would increase the income from Parking Permits…” and “This will be taken account of in the council’s future financial planning.”

So it is a tax, pure and simple, but is there a point in charging more for a permit for a diesel car than a petrol car?

Diesel cars have been encouraged by government – it was the previous Labour government that decided that CO2 was bad, and anything that could be done to reduce CO2 therefore had to be good – including replacing CO2 with NOx – hence they encouraged people to buy diesel instead of petrol, and now people who listened to the Labour government are now to be punished for it by this Labour council.

We already tax people on their use of fuel, in the US you pay roughly 68 cents for a litre, currently about 55p – compared to £1.20 per litre here. This tax is directly proportionate to the amount of pollution a vehicle causes – more fuel in = more cost.

This is in direct contrast to this Labour stealth tax – which is the same if you leave your car at home all day, or if you drive up and down the streets of the borough.

In fact, it is even worse – the vast majority of journeys made in the borough are by people who do not live in the borough – so the Administration is taxing our residents, while leaving the majority of offenders alone.

Are the borough’s diesel drivers a major source of pollution?

As this is the Administration’s flagship policy for clearer air, you might expect local diesel drivers to be in the top 3 producers of NOx – but they are not – in the top 10 then? No, they are joint 13th – tied with taxis – for now at least, as when the TX5 is introduced later this year, a model launched by Boris Johnson as Mayor, we will see zero emission taxis.

So what are the top producers of NOx, and what is the council doing about them? Very little…

Construction is the biggest producer of NO2 – generally diesel from construction vehicles and from diesel generators – actually as the council is approving fewer homes, you might argue they are doing something to reduce their impact – but more could be done here – planning conditions could be used to encourage using grid electricity instead of generators and lower emission vehicles

In second place, diesel rail. The good news is that the Conservative government are doing something – the electrification of the Great Western line will enable diesel trains to be phased out from the line – possibly reducing a whole class of polluter.

In third place is non-domestic gas, and I know of nothing that the council is doing to address this.

Finally, in fourth place, are buses – as Mayor, Boris Johnson introduced the hybrid Routemaster bus to reduce pollution, which the current Mayor has decided to cancel. Boris had also started requiring zero emission buses be used on ever more routes – this is an area where the Council should be working harder with the Mayor of London, to set a timetable for all buses in Hammersmith and Fulham to be zero emission – removing all diesel buses from the borough would do more than removing all diesel cars, and it is achievable without introducing stealth taxes on our residents.

Some might say that it is just £20 per year, those who drive new flashy 4x4s can afford it, but that misses the point – most people with a new 4×4 will replace it in a few years, and can choose a vehicle that meets the emissions requirements.

As the cabinet report says – “those less economical [sic] well off, as these people are more likely to own older cars which are less emission friendly. As such the new permit structure and associated prices may have a greater impact on this sector of residents.” – not may – it will, as these are the people for whom an extra £60 per year is an unwelcome additional expense, but who cannot simply replace their vehicle.

Shocking state of Bassein Park Road

Residents of Bassein Park Road have raised concerns about the very poor state of their road. The Council response was that it “is not in the list for road resurfacing as there are no bad patches of surface deterioration found apart from the section from Askew Road to Rylett Road.”  In fact the whole length of Bassein Park Road is in a pretty shocking state – the photographs below show just a few of the problems. Nor is it the only road which has been left to deteriorate to an unacceptable extent.

I am pressing the Council to take action…

 

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Has the Flyunder project been left to drift?

This eyesore must go.

This eyesore must go.

The Budget by George Osborne last year saw specific encouragement for the Flyunder project with the offer of funding.  Zac Goldsmith made clear his strong support.  Sadiq Khan claimed to back the proposal as well – as did the Labour leadership of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. But what are they doing about it?

Making it a reality will be a huge challenge. There needs to be determination. It won’t just happen of its own accord. The impression I get is that the Council and the Mayor are not even trying.

Recently I asked the Council:

“Please provide a list of all meetings in the past year undertaken by H&F councillors and council officers regarding the flyunder proposal – with dates, details of those attending an any minutes that were taken.

Please include any meetings with the Mayor of London and his predecessor and their staff and TFL officials.

Please include any meetings of the Joint Programme Board and the Joint Delivery Group.”

They wouldn’t answer me so I put it in as an FOI request. They are still prevaricating. But I fear their obfuscation may be paradoxically illuminating. I suspect they have done diddly squat. If they were making a serious effort why not say so?

Overwhelmingly the residents I represent welcome the idea of replacing the Hammersmith Flyover – and a stretch of the A4 extending to the Hogarth Roundabout – with a tunnel, a “Flyunder.” Three years ago under a Conservative administration this was a priority for Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Initial viability work by the Council
was encouraging.

We estimated the construction time would take between two and three years – the disruption to the A4 involving line closure would be 12 to 18 months.

The cost of a Flyunder, if it had North End Road as the “eastern portal” was estimated at £1.12bn. However our report also found that “rent estimates indicate that redevelopment could achieve in the order of £1billion some of which could form part of the flyunder financing package.” Also that  redevelopment could provide opportunities for new and improved open space as well as “better, more pedestrian and cycle-friendly connections between Hammersmith and the River Thames” and “opportunities to unravel the Hammersmith Gyratory through the
provision of a relief road on the current alignment of the A4. ”

The then council leader Nick Botterill said the Hammersmith Flyover is an “elevated concrete monster that has divided our town centre for decades – magnifying traffic noise and polluting our air in the process.”

Potentially the prize would not merely be removing this eyesore but also putting a stretch of the A4 underground. That would mean restoring the old street patterns. Furnivall Gardens could be restored to its full size going right up to the Town Hall. Streets such as Rivercourt Road, Weltje Road, Black Lion Lane, Verbena Gardens and Eyot Gardens that were ripped apart in 1955 could be restored.

It is important that one type of ugliness is not replaced with another. The acres of land released should be used to restore the beautiful style housing that was there before.

They are hard at work replacing a viaduct with a tunnel in Seattle at the moment. It’s happened in Madrid, Seoul, San Francisco and Milwaukee. The New York Times reports:

“All around the world, highways are being torn down and waterfronts reclaimed; decades of
thinking about cars and cities reversed; new public spaces created.”

Technological change offers the chance to restore the beauty of the past. That way the kind Hammersmith that are parents knew could be the Hammersmith that our children will have the chance to see.

President Kennedy said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Building the Flyunder would be hard – even with the offer from central Government of helping with the funding. But it can be done. It would mean the chance for more housing, better transport, cleaner air and a more beautiful borough. Mayor Khan and the Labour council leaders in H&F just don’t show the determination needed.

The misery of waiting to turn into the Talgarth Road

Here is the traffic in Palliser Road from an hour ago waiting to turn into Talgarth Road:

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Luxury. These motorists in Comeragh Road can only dream of being in Palliser Road.

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Then there are those in Charleville Road with the aspiration to be in Gledstanes Roadcharlev

 

Or those in Queen’s Club Gardens hoping to make it into Greyhound Road

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Or those in Musard Road clinging to the same ambition

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Of course it is a Friday afternoon. But these scenes of traffic congestion in the streets of Baron’s Court are all too familiar.  Delay, pollution, congestion, misery. Motorists honking with frustration and anger.

Would it not make a big difference to these residential streets if the traffic lights into the Talgarth Road were re-phased to make it easier to turn? I suspect that traffic lights often do more harm than good.

Ker-ching! Council makes £2.4 million in 18 months from the Bagley’s Lane box junction

bagleysThe BBC reports that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has made £2.4 million in Fixed Penalty Charges from the Bagley’s Lane/New King’s Road box junction in the last eighteen months.

Now it is important that drivers do not feel they can get away with blocking box junctions. So a failure to have any enforcement would not be in the interests of motorists generally as it would lead to more congestion.

The conflict of interest comes in the traffic management and the level of fines meaning that the more people the Council catch and the more they fine them the greater the revenue for the Council. That means it has become a tax. Apart from anything else this is unconstitutional. The principle that taxes must be approved by Parliament goes back to the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

When Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, was opposition leader he said that the money raised from the Bagley’s Lane was part of a “sly, cunning and often deceitful culture”. He now seems to see some merit in the “money box” junction.  Labour’s manifesto pledge to cut fines which they said were used “for entrapping innocent motorists” has been quietly dropped.

What I propose is that for a first offence a warning letter is sent first.  It could be to the owner of the vehicle, where
we have no previous record of an offence by anyone driving that vehicle. The Council said the DVLA wouldn’t allow it. So I asked the DVLA – who told me they would:

“We would provide vehicle keeper details to the local authority if they intended to send a warning letter.

“Vehicle keeper data is provided to local authorities by law for purposes involving traffic management.  Regulations do not prescribe the method by which such traffic management operations must be carried out.  So long as those activities are lawful, it is for the local authority to consider how best to achieve this.”