Sadiq Khan blasts ‘levelling up’ as ‘smoke and mirrors’ exercise and vows to fight any ULEZ legal challenge

Sadiq Khan blasts ‘levelling up’ as ‘smoke and mirrors’ exercise and vows to fight any ULEZ legal challenge

Sadiq Khan has pledged to fight any legal action against his decision to expand the capital’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the whole of the city. “I will not bow or cower to legal challenges or vested interests,” the Mayor told MPs yesterday

Khan also used his appearance before the Commons levelling up, housing and communities committee to condemn levelling up as a “smoke and mirrors” policy of little value to London and repeat his calls for the government to introduce a two-year freeze of private rents.

Pressed by Conservative MP Paul Holmes about opposition to the ULEZ expansion, which will see the owners of more polluting vehicles charged £12.50 a day to drive within Greater London, Khan confirmed he expected four Tory-controlled boroughs to start legal action against the plan. But he said he was confident there were “no flaws” in TfL’s consultation exercise ahead of his decision.

“Toxic air is a killer,” he added, with 4,000 premature deaths every year attributable to poor air quality, mainly in outer London.

Earlier in the day Khan had launched a £110 million City Hall-funded scrappage scheme to help small businesses, charities, low income and disabled Londoners replace or adapt non-compliant vehicles ahead of the expansion, which is due to come into force on 29 August.

Quizzed about the impact of “levelling up” funding on the capital, the Mayor said the city was yet to feel the benefits, despite councils spending an average of £45,000 each preparing 49 bids to rounds one and two of the national Levelling Up Fund.

“That’s £2.2 million just for the privilege of holding out a begging bowl. Even Oliver Twist did not have to pay to beg. The rewards are not proportionate to the effort put in,” he said.

Preparing a bid to the short-lived Liz Truss government’s investment zone scheme had cost the equivalent of £50,000, only for the scheme to be scrapped a few weeks later, he said, while the £144 million over three years allocated to London to replace European Union funding amounted to just over half what had previously been available.

Levelling up funding for the capital – £65 million for six projects in round one and £151 million for eight projects in round two, announced earlier this month – represented four per cent of the round one total and seven per cent of the round two amount, he added.

“No-one is against the objectives of levelling up, but the way to level up our country is not by making London poorer,” he said. “It may be good politics to pit one part of the country against another but it is bad policy, with Londoners caught in the crossfire.”

Devolving more power and resources, including “block” grants rather than competitive bidding processes, should be the way forward, he said. More devolution to London could mean greater control over property taxes and more leeway for funding projects using the Elizabeth Line model, with the money substantially raised from businesses and through council tax and a new so-called tourist tax on hotel visitors.

Asked by Conservative Mary Robinson if residents see any real difference, Khan replied that devolution of adult education funding from Whitehall to City Hall in 2019 had already seen course enrolment go up by 18 per cent and improved cooperation between colleges and employers. “Trust us, we know our communities better,” he said.

The Mayor also warned of a growing housing crisis, with private rents up 16 per cent over the past 12 months and the supply of new homes continuing to fall short of demand.

City Hall’s own affordable homes programme, targeting 116,000 homes started by the end of March this year, was currently some 20,000 short, he said, having been adversely affected by inflation, Covid delays, safety costs and Brexit, which had seen more than half of the EU nationals working in construction leaving the UK.

“We’ve got to wake up to the housing crisis,” he said, arguing that the government should immediately stabilise the market by granting London the power to freeze private sector rents for two years, followed by increased funding for affordable home-building. “Some of the most capitalist cities in the world have rent controls and the sky hasn’t fallen in,” he said.

Watch the Commons committee session in full here.

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