I'm no sentimentalist, but London must be a cruelty-free zone

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I have often been asked why, as a member of parliament representing an urban constituency, I should take any interest in rural matters. The most common view from the pro-hunting lobby is "what do you know about foxes?" Quite apart from the untimely end meted out to my pet tortoise last summer by an urban fox, I take the view that the welfare of animals and the balance of our environment are of concern to all of us, wherever we live.

I have often been asked why, as a member of parliament representing an urban constituency, I should take any interest in rural matters. The most common view from the pro-hunting lobby is "what do you know about foxes?" Quite apart from the untimely end meted out to my pet tortoise last summer by an urban fox, I take the view that the welfare of animals and the balance of our environment are of concern to all of us, wherever we live.

I am no sentimentalist about wildlife, which is why, incidentally, I have never become a vegetarian. None the less, our stewardship of the planet is at least in part determined by how much attention we pay not only to the welfare of animals but also to the environment as a whole.

Over the years I have had more letters of concern about animal welfare than any other single issue, so I intend to recognise the genuine concerns on these points and appoint an officer who will liaise with the existing animal welfare organisations to tackle cruelty. Whether that is the issue of unnecessary tests on animals, factory farming or simply cruelty to our domestic pets, there is simply no justification for cruelty to the animals we share this planet with. That's why I remain committed to the view that London should be an animal cruelty free zone.

It is no longer credible to argue that policies for protecting the environment are just an optional extra. The quality of life of every person who lives in a major city now depends on government's willingness to champion environmental sustainability.

Each year in Britain, 24,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution. In London, air quality levels are so poor that one in seven children have asthma - a figure that is even worse for those children who live alongside major roads.

By far the biggest cause of air pollution in London is exhaust fumes from road vehicles. Far from road use being in decline, the Government predicts that in 20 years every major road into London will be congested all day, every day. London's businesses estimate that traffic congestion cost them pounds 15bn a year and is the biggest disadvantage of operating in London.

Solving London's transport nightmare will be the most important task facing the new mayor when he or she takes office in May. Clearly this will mean reducing traffic, especially in central London, and my aim, if elected mayor, will be to cut road traffic by 15 per cent by 2010. However, the most important lesson I learned as leader of the GLC was that it is easier to persuade people to leave their car at home if public transport is made cheaper, faster and easier to use. That is why my priority will be to get the Tube working again, in the public sector, and revitalise the buses so that they are an equal partner to the Underground.

Although transport is undoubtedly London's biggest problem, there are a great many other issues which demand attention if the new mayor is going to make a real difference to the quality of London's environment. For example, whereas cities in other countries have adopted very progressive policies for recycling waste, British cities are mostly still wedded to the environmentally destructive practices of incineration or land-fill. In London we produce 13.5 million tonnes of waste every year - the equivalent of two tonnes for every man, woman and child living in the capital - and yet recycle only 6 per cent of it. My aim will be to achieve a recycling rate comparable with that of modern continental European cities such as Barcelona, which manages a 25 per cent recycling rate.

A serious programme of recycling, coupled with a commitment by the Greater London Authority to buy recycled goods, could have a hugely positive effect on London's economy. With all our pollution problems London is perfectly placed to become a market leader in sustainable technology, a market that could become increasingly important to the world economy in the years to come. Certainly, experience from the US "Tri-city" region of Washington, Baltimore and Richmond suggests that many new jobs could be created if my London recycling target is met.

I am also keen to protect the rich natural heritage of the capital city. London's parks, open spaces and rivers are home to a great diversity of wildlife and plants. Access to green spaces brings health and education benefits to London's children and makes the city a more pleasurable place to live and work. Yet even some of London's most important wildlife sites - such as Rainham Marshes - are threatened by ugly and destructive development plans. For that reason I am in favour of a Biodiversity Action Plan to give full protection to London's wildlife sites, including a pledge that there will be no further development on any green-belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Metropolitan Open Land.

The river Thames should be designated a special Blue Ribbon Zone. The Thames is London's most important and visible natural asset, with habitats including shingle, mudflats and grazing marshes, and is home to more than 350 invertebrate species and 115 species of fish. The Thames and its tributaries, such as the rivers Colne, Wandle and Lea, link London to the surrounding countryside and provide a network of green corridors through urban areas. It must be protected.

Finally, to ensure that, despite well-meaning aims, environmental sustainability does not drop off the political agenda, as mayor I would introduce a Quality of Life index for London. This would measure the success of the mayor's policies in improving Londoner's lives. It would be adapted to the specific needs of London and would include measures of the success of the mayor's policies on transport, crime, health, air and water quality, access to green space and improved housing. London can be a greener, cleaner place.

Comments