Is a City Hall rethink over Sadiq Khan’s plans to extend the capital’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) city-wide next year on the cards?
Transport for London’s consultation on the proposed enlargement closed just over a month ago having received 58,000 responses ahead of a planned final decision by the Mayor before the end of this year.
Critics of the plan have already seized on a press report claiming “leaked” data shows that two-thirds of respondents opposed the proposals and on TfL’s board hearing on Wednesday that the 10-week exercise had seen “a lot of campaign activity” both for and against the scheme.
Khan’s previous expansion of the ULEZ to cover inner London as far as the North and South Circular roads attracted just over 40,000 consultation responses, while his predecessor Boris Johnson’s consultation for the original central London ULEZ prompted some 16,000 comments.
Pressed by Conservative members of the London Assembly at yesterday’s monthly Mayor’s Question Time about the handling of responses – including suggestions that some comments might be “screened out” – Khan would not agree to open the process to “public scrutiny”, but did confirm it would be subject to independent analysis before its results were presented to him for consideration in a final report, along with options for action.
There would be no “predetermination”, he said, but countered that a separate City Hall poll published on Monday had showed a 51% majority of Londoners in favour of expanding the scheme compared to just 27% against it.
The expansion was about addressing the “triple challenges of improving air quality and public health, tackling the climate emergency, and reducing traffic congestion throughout Greater London,” he told Assembly Members (AMs). “Toxic air caused by road traffic is still leading to thousands of premature deaths a year, and the greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution are in London’s outer boroughs, which the ULEZ doesn’t currently cover. And a majority believe the expansion should go ahead.”
But he conceded that a delay to the scheme’s August 2023 implementation date as well as a possible “grace period” before charges kicked in could be “in the mix” when TfL submitted its report and options for decision, with the need to get a scheme in place to help households and businesses pay to replace non-compliant vehicles a major consideration.
That was a key concern arising from the consultation, TfL officers said on Wednesday, alongside the need for more financial support for disabled drivers.
“No one wants to add to the problems people face,” Khan agreed, as Tory AMs suggested a new charge next year could hit lower-paid Londoners already facing a rising cost of living. And he confirmed to Keith Prince AM that a call from the London Region of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for a 12 month “no charge” period until August 2024 alongside an “all-encompassing” scrappage scheme would also be considered.
The FSB had warned that up to one in five businesses currently using non-compliant vehicles could face closure, and their call was backed this week in a cross-party submission to Khan from two outer London MPs, Labour’s Jon Cruddas, representing Dagenham & Rainham, and Hendon’s Tory MP Matthew Offord, adding to the pressure for a delay. In a joint letter to Khan the two MPs wrote that the proposed timing of the expansion “could not be worse with a cost of doing business crisis facing many micro and small businesses”.
The Mayor promised to introduce “the biggest scrappage scheme feasible” when consultation on the expansion was launched, alongside calling for extra support from the government to help motorists, but no details are yet available.
The government has, to date, been unsupportive of Khan’s plans, with the latest TfL funding deal stipulating that capital grants it includes cannot be used to cover the costs of the scheme, leaving the hard-pressed transport authority to look elsewhere for the estimated £250 million required for its implementation.
What the whole of Thursday’s Mayor’s Question Time here.
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