Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Van emission charge plan halted

London traffic
The scheme aimed to fine heavily polluting vans and minibuses

Plans to extend a scheme preventing high polluting vehicles entering London have been shelved by the city's mayor.

An expansion of London's Low Emission Zone (LEZ) would have seen owners of heavily polluting vans and minibuses fined up to 500 a day by October 2010.

Mayor Boris Johnson pulled the plug as he said it could damage businesses already suffering in the recession.

Green Party London Assembly member Darren Johnson said it was "condemning Londoners to more premature deaths".

Introduced in February 2008 by previous mayor Ken Livingstone, the LEZ currently requires owners of large lorries, buses and coaches to meet emissions standards or face a daily charge of up to 200 or a fine of up to 1,000.

The next phase would require owners of smaller vehicles such as vans and minibuses to meet the same standards.

Mr Johnson said this could result in 90,000 vehicle owners paying up to 2,000 each for emission reduction equipment.

The cost of fitting pollution equipment or getting a new vehicle would have come as punch in the ribs to those who need our help at this time
London Mayor Boris Johnson

"Many of these will be owned by small businesses, charities and self-employed Londoners already hard hit by the recession," he said.

"Simply put, the cost of fitting pollution equipment or getting a new vehicle would have come as punch in the ribs to those who need our help at this time, would have destroyed profit margins, and endangered our businesses."

The mayor said he was "100 per cent committed" to the LEZ, which he said "has been successful in tackling the worst polluters, and will continue to play an important role".

But he added: "I am confident that the new course we have set finds a balance between London's environmental and economic needs and that we can lower emissions in more imaginative ways."

'Absolute disaster'

Green Party member Darren Johnson said the decision, which would be subject to public consultation, was an "absolute disaster" for London's environment.

"Substandard air quality in the capital already results in around 1,000 premature deaths per year," he said.

"The extension of the Low Emission Zone to tens of thousands of vans next year was going to be a huge step towards cleaning London's air."

Last week the European Union began legal action against the UK for its failure to meet standards for pollution particles, known as PM10s, which can cause heart and lung problems and premature death.

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