Can improved logistics on the Thames reduce emissions post Covid-19?

As the UK government sets out its plan this week for easing the lock down, Future Cities Forum has been looking at the issues around a possible rise in city pollution if drivers take to their cars in large numbers again. Research from the University of Cambridge has begun to find a link between pollution and the severity of infections from Covid-19.

Will there be a decline in the use of public transport because people feel safer from viral infection in their cars? Will pollution levels rise steadily if food drops from supermarkets become routinely higher than usual, with shoppers abandoning high streets and metro food outlets? Is it realistic to use navigable rivers such as the Thames in an increased transporting of goods, reducing lorry traffic and what of the emissions released by shipping on waterways?

The Mayor of London's office has released data to show how pollution from car emissions has dropped dramatically during restrictions. It has shown that levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by some of London's busiest roads are on average about half what they were before lock down. The new data has been published in response to the environment minister's call for evidence which will feed in to the Government's response to Covid-19.

The Mayor of London's office has stated that around half of London's air pollution comes from road transport and the evidence shows how our polluted air is so often caused by the way we choose to move around the city. Nearly half of car trips made by Londoners before the Coronavirus lock down could be cycled in around ten minutes, it observed.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said:

'...once the current emergency has passed and we start to recover, our challenge will be to eradicate air pollution permanently and ensure the gains we've made through policies such as the ULEZ continue. It is critical that Government keeps this in mind as part of the country's recovery from the pandemic'.

There is also the concern about the transportation of goods by lorries on our roads which adds to pollution levels, with discussion among councils in Kent and London on how to use the river Thames to greater effect for freight transport. Although improvements in emissions from shipping also needs monitoring and reduction.

Cross River Partnership has now partnered with the Greater London Authority, Port of London Authority and the City of London Corporation in a match- funded three year, £500,000 project, called 'Clean Air Thames'.

It aims to deliver air quality improvements along the Tidal Thames by retrofitting inland vessels to reduce emissions. These include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides by up to 90 per cent. It is also hoped that shared lessons will come out of the project in terms of best practices.

Vessels using the river currently account for approximately one per cent of emissions across the Capital, however this figure is projected to increase as standards for road vehicles become stricter and use of the river expands.

Transporting building materials is needed now if the government is to rescue the house building programme post the crisis caused by the Coronavirus.

Laurence Dagley, UK Materials South's Managing Director commented at the January 2020 launch of Gravesham's new wharf conveyor to improve the transport of building materials to the capital:

'Every dredger we deploy on the river bound for the capital with building materials, eliminates 250 lorry journeys from the regions' roads each year'.

The opening by Gravesham Council and the Port of London Authority of the new conveyor in Kent, with an investment of £3.8 million, aims to improve the handling of goods coming into London, with the capacity to transfer as much as 350,000 more tonnes of aggregates to London by ship each year. The Port of London says that Thames Vision aims to increase port trade by up to 80 million tonnes by 2035.

The project is set to play a key role in meeting growing demand for housing and other infrastructure in the capital. Each year the capital needs approximately 10 million tonnes of sand, gravel and crushed rock for construction projects. The improvements at the wharf will see the site's annual capacity rise.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of London has set up a new task force to ensure the capital's housing sector recovers post the crisis.'The Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce' which will meet every fortnight and is made up of councils, construction, union and housing associations, will consider how the sector can adapt and maintain resilience and also look at the support from government needed to maintain housing supply. Task force member and Policy Director at the Home Builders Federation David O'Leary said:

'As the industry works towards a new way of building and selling homes the challenges in London are particularly acute with additional issues around safe travel...as well as helping to tackle our housing shortage, home building can generate enormous economic and social benefits at this time of great uncertainty but this can only happen with proper safety provisions in place to protect the health and safety of the vast home building workforce and the communities in which our members work.'

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