A Conservative councillor who chairs Bromley’s environment scrutiny committee has described Sadiq Khan’s plans to enlarge London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to encompass his borough as representing “socialism in its darkest form” and creating “a new Berlin wall along our outer borders”.
Will Rowlands, who represents Mottingham ward, made his remarks in the council chamber on Monday during a debate about the Tory-controlled local authority’s opposition to the latest ULEZ expansion, which includes launching a joint legal challenge aimed at preventing its implementation in August.
In the course of his speech Rowlands, 24, claimed the scheme threatens “the right for everybody to go about daily life freely” and drew a comparison between it – whose purpose is to reduce levels of air pollution – and the former East Germany when it was part of the old Soviet bloc, arguing that “instead of encouraging people to change their habits in a free and open manner,” the Mayor of London is unleashing “sinister, bully-boy tactics to enforce conformity upon us all, aided by the Stasi-fication of the outer regions with a surveillance system monitoring who is being good and compliant and who needs to be punished and taxed”.
Rowlands’s imagery was similar to that recently used in the House of Commons by the Conservative MP for the Don Valley, who characterised so-called “15-minute neighbourhoods” – a catch-all term for long-established town planning policies for bringing basic amenities within easy walking distance – as “the international socialist concept” and claimed “Ultra-Low Emission Zones in their present form do untold damage to any city”.
Claiming that local NHS nurses will be punished by the scheme because they drive to work in cars that don’t meet ULEZ standards and will face a daily charge unless they upgrade them, Rowlands said, “This ULEZ proposal is no more than the left waging ideological warfare on ordinary people. The proposal here involves robbing the nurses to pay Khan”.
He also expressed his hope that if the legal challenge is unsuccessful the Conservative national government will intervene to help Bromley’s leadership “in standing up against Khan and this vile aggression” and warned against the possibility of “a crueller and even more destructive pay-per-mile scheme” in the future. Media reports that the government could use a section of the Greater London Authority Act (1999) to override Khan have been played down by a spokesperson.
Opposition in London and elsewhere in England to road management programmes aimed at limiting car use, encouraging other forms of travel and improving air quality have attracted vocal opposition and media coverage in the last few years. At a People’s Question Time meeting held in Ealing last night Mayor Khan said that some people outside the venue protesting against the ULEZ expansion were “part of the far-right” including “Covid deniers” and “vaccine deniers” along with Tories.
Demonstrations in Oxford against plans to filter through-traffic out of some roads in the city have been attended by far-right and anti-vaccine fringe agitators, although an official from the trade union Unite who represents workers at Heathrow airport has called the ULEZ expansion “anti-worker“.
Bromley, which is to increase the council tax it charges residents by the maximum permitted 4.99 per cent, lost a dozen seats at last year’s borough elections, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Independents making gains.
Councillor Rowlands’s comments can be heard from approximately four hours and 55 minutes into the meeting.
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