I’ve been toying with renaming the ULEZ the ULEZzzzzz, so tired have I become of the frenzy and fury about it. But to do so would be childish, and we don’t want that sort of thing round here. Instead, I will offer some calming facts and some bits of news.
Let’s focus on the borough of Hillingdon, where the Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election will take place on 20 July – next Thursday. Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell has declared it a “Referendum on ULEZ”, and why wouldn’t he? After all, the last thing he’d want it to be about is his party’s record in national government.
Isabel Hardman has reported for the Spectator (paywall alert) that “most people who open their doors” to him agree with Tuckwell that the ULEZ expansion is “going to cost them a great deal of money”. But unless the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and Transport for London (TfL) have wildly misunderstood official figures for vehicle ownership in the area – and even likely Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall has given them her stamp of approval – the great majority won’t be directly affected at all, except, perhaps, by a small reduction in congestion.
TfL analysis of the SMMT figures, which are largely drawn from the DVLA’s, found that in 2022, 83 per cent of cars registered in Hillingdon were ULEZ compliant – almost exactly the same as the overall outer London figure of 84 per cent. The outer London figure for the previous year, 2021, had shown 75 per cent compliance. The compliance rate had therefore gone up by nine per cent in the space of a year.
If we suppose that rate of increase has continued, it could mean that now, more than halfway through 2023, 87 or 88 per cent of cars registered in Hillingdon are ULEZ-compliant. Maybe more. So how can it be – if indeed it is so – that the issue is as huge on the doorstep as it appears or is claimed to be?
- Could it be because, as previously discussed, significant numbers of people think the expansion is wrong, even if their own cars (or vans) pass the ULEZ test?
- Could it be that some who’ve upgraded their vehicles in anticipation of the expansion are still fed up about it?
- Could it be that significant numbers fear that their cars will fall short of ULEZ standards but have yet to use the TfL “check your vehicle” facility to find out.
On that last point, given the Conservative party’s, shall we say, exceptional recent record of campaigning on road-user charging issues, no doubt Tuckwell is advising worried voters to find out for sure whether or not their vehicle is ULEZ compliant every bit as eagerly as Labour’s Danny Beales is…
Whatever the true scale or strength of anti-ULEZ expansion sentiment in the seat, and notwithstanding its stubborn resistance to changing political colour, most evidence suggests the Tories have the most to worry about.
Neither a local opinion poll nor bookmakers’ odds are fireproof guides to by-elections anywhere, but in this case both are pointing to a Labour victory. I have drafted a headline which reads: “Uxbridge: ‘ULEZ referendum’ produces ‘yes’ for Labour”. Let’s see if it survives contact with reality this time next week.
I promised ULEZ news. The biggest bit is a London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) poll of 510 businesses in the capital, conducted between 26 April and 30 May, and therefore completed shortly before Sadiq Khan announced a widening of eligibility for his £110 million scrappage scheme, making help with upgrading vehicles available to more small businesses and others.
The poll found that nearly half – 47 per cent – of businesses of various sizes thought the expansion would have no impact on their employees, though a large minority of 33 per cent were worried that it would. There was a bit of an inner-outer split, with 39 per cent of outer London firms saying they were worried compared with 29 per cent of those in inner London.
When it came to negative effects on their costs, 46 per cent of outer London businesses thought it would have no impact, 13 per cent said it would have a positive one and 40 per cent, a negative one.
The LCCI has welcomed the Mayor’s adjustments to the scrappage scheme, along with a six-month “grace period” post-launch for sole traders and small and micro businesses that order compliant vehicles before the expansion but won’t take delivery of them until afterwards.
And finally, Brent Tory councillors staged a walkout during a full council meeting after the Labour leadership amended their motion for discussing the ULEZ expansion in a manner not to their liking. Such theatre. Anyone would think there’s a mayoral election coming.