London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expands to cover the whole of the Greater London area today, completing its enlargement from its original eight square miles of Central London in April 2019 to encompass the full 606 square mile English region.
A flagship policy of Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan since he was first elected to City Hall in 2106, the ULEZ, now the largest scheme of its kind in the world, has been hailed by him as the centrepiece of his programme for improving air quality in the capital, benefiting public health and helping to combat climate change, but has been furiously attacked by Conservative and other political opponents and their media allies.
Khan inherited the plan for the initial ULEZ from his predecessor Boris Johnson, and introduced the anti-pollution scheme more than a year sooner than Johnson had scheduled, preceding it with a surcharge – called the Toxicity Charge – to the Congestion Charge from 2017. The ULEZ, which operates for 24 hours, was first expanded in October 2021, soon after Khan’s re-election that year.
Today’s further expansion required the London Assembly approving in November last year a revision to the Mayor’s 2018 statutory transport strategy, enabling the Mayor to apply the ULEZ Londonwide.
Critics, including some Labour politicians in outer London boroughs, have warned that the scheme is being introduced too quickly to allow owners of vehicles that don’t comply with ULEZ standards to buy replacement vehicles or get their current ones upgraded in order to avoid a £12.50 daily charge.
However, the Mayor has described himself as “a doer, not a delayer” over pollution and climate change and has sought to soften the impact of what he has been characterising as a difficult but necessary decision by widening the range of Londoners eligible for help from his scrappage scheme so that all with non-compliant vehicles can apply for financial help, and by increasing the size of the fund available from £110 million to £160 million.
City Hall says nearly £60 million has been allocated from the fund so far to more than 14,000 applicants with “tens of thousands more” being processed. Grants range from £2,000 for scrapping a non-compliant car and £1,000 for a motorcycle to £10,000 for a wheelchair accessible vehicle and up to £11,500 for small businesses and charities, which can scrap up to three vehicles.
More than 15,000 applications have been received since 21 August, when the scheme was opened to all, according to City Hall – up more than 1,000 per cent on the previous week. Applicants do not have to purchase a replacement vehicle in order to qualify for an allocation from the scrappage fund, as the main aim of the scheme is to remove the most polluting vehicles from London’s road network. It also hopes to have some further beneficial impact on climate change and road traffic congestion.
Over 40 per cent of London households do not own a motor vehicle at all, and of those that do the upward trend in ULEZ compliance shown in figures for cars and vans registered in London compiled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders suggests that more than 90 per cent are already up to scratch. Transport for London says that 90 per cent of vehicles seen by its cameras in outer London areas – which will include some not registered in London – meet the ULEZ standards.
Even so, estimates suggest there could recently have been 300,000 or more non-complaint vehicles registered in London, though they could include fleets of commercial vehicles not actually driven in the capital.
Arguments continue about the likely effectiveness of the new expansion in reducing air pollution, with City Hall insisting it will build meaningfully on reported large reductions in the levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide and microscopic “particulate matter” particles released into the air by the most polluting motor vehicles, and opponents pointing to an impact assessment concluding that its effects would be minimal.
Public supporters of the latest expansion include Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director for Public Health, who said it “marks a key moment in London’s fight to tackle air pollution” and will help the approximately five million residents brought within the zone where “the highest number of premature deaths due to toxic air” occurs.
John Dickie, Chief Executive of BusinessLDN, which represents many of the capital’s largest employers, said the ULEZ expansion will “play an important role in saving lives across the capital” and “make the city a more attractive place to live, work and visit”.
The government is seeking to weaken the power of London’s Mayors to introduce road user charging schemes in future, with transport secretary Mark Harper saying the administration is supporting an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill tabled by Tory peer Daniel Moylan – formerly deputy chair of the Transport for London board under Boris Johnson – which would, in Moylan’s words, “allow boroughs to say NO to any future ULEZ schemes”. Moylan added that his amendment also “covers road pricing“.