Mayor celebrates planting 500,000 trees under his leadership of City Hall

The Tories have pointed out that Sadiq Khan promised to plant two million trees during his first mayoral election campaign, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan help plants a tree at Garratt Park School in Earlsfield (credit Caroline Teo via Greater London Authority)
Sadiq Khan help plants a tree at Garratt Park School in Earlsfield (credit Caroline Teo via Greater London Authority)

Sadiq Khan has celebrated after planting the 500,000th tree funded since he became London mayor in 2016 – but critics say he is “all talk and no action”.

At an event held to mark National Tree Week last week, the mayor announced a new investment of half-a-million-pounds into tree-planting across London.

City Hall said that the “record-breaking” 500,000 trees planted since Khan’s election was already the result of almost £7million of investment.

The 500,000th tree – an apple tree – was planted on Friday (1st) by the mayor at Garratt Park School in Earlsfield, South London.

Khan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “What people may not realise is the importance of trees to tackling the climate emergency, to cleaning up the air in our city, but also to make sure people’s mental health is better.

“Why do I say that? We know because of the eight million trees across our city, that’s captured and stores more than two million tonnes of carbon. Trees are also really important in taking in particulate matter and nitrogen oxide[s].

“But also we know unfortunately, in the more deprived parts of our cities, there tends to be fewer trees – and we know from the pandemic the difference [that having a] connection with nature meant.”

The mayor’s environmental record was criticised, however, by Tory assembly member Tony Devenish, who called the mayor “all talk and no action”.

He pointed to a pledge made by the mayor in a Guardian interview and subsequent tweet in 2015, in which he promised to plant two million trees in his first term alone.

Devenish, who represents Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham at City Hall, said: “Eight years later, he is today celebrating planting just a quarter of that number.

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“As Cop28 gets underway, today’s announcement from the mayor sums up his poor environmental record.

“Having focused all his efforts on extending Ulez [Ultra Low Emission Zone] as part of an unfair tax grab on motorists which does nothing for air pollution, Sadiq Khan has very little to celebrate after eight years in office.

“We won’t have a zero emission bus fleet until 2034 and are decades away from having enough rapid electric vehicle charging hub sites.”

The mayor said in response: “I was quite clear in my manifesto, when I stood to be mayor in 2016 – we would massively increase the number of trees being planted.”

In his book published earlier this year, Breathe, Khan said that the 2015 pledge was “one of the biggest mistakes I made when running for mayor” and that it served as “a reminder to always, always do your homework before announcing a policy”.

His 2016 manifesto did not include a figure, only committing to “embark on a major tree-planting programme across London”.

Khan continued: “We’ve broken all sorts of records. We’ve planted more trees in my seven-and-a-half years than the previous two mayors did.

“We’re on target to increase tree cover – tree canopy – by 10%, but at the same time, rewilding our city.

“So we’re not just planting more trees, not just greening our city more, two new meadows – we’ve also brought back beavers, bats and bees. We’re also making sure that we restore our rivers, meadows and wetlands as well.

“It’s incredibly important though [that] we get more support from the government. At a time when Cop28 has begun, the government’s rowing back on our climate change commitments. In London, we’re speeding ahead.”

City Hall said that London boroughs will be supported to plant almost 3,000 street trees this winter. In addition, the mayor is giving away another 40,000 trees to Londoners in partnership with a campaign by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).

According to the mayor’s team, London’s trees now cover an area that would fill Hyde Park more than 239 times.

Transport for London has said that with more government funding, it could have a zero emission bus fleet by 2030, rather than 2034.

Khan has said that the expanded Ulez will enable five million Londoners to breathe cleaner air, and that it will save lives.

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