City Hall plans to extend the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of the capital cleared a major hurdle yesterday as London Assembly members (AMs) sanctioned an update of Sadiq Khan’s statutory transport strategy, meaning he can formally consider the proposed expansion.
The update did not give the green light to the controversial proposal, which will be decided by the Mayor, but did open the door for him to “seek to address the triple challenges of toxic air, the climate emergency and traffic congestion through road user charging schemes, including by expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide.”
The expansion had not been included in the existing strategy, leading Conservative AMs to depict the update decision as a yes/no vote on the plan, which if implemented will see older, more polluting vehicles that fail to meet emissions targets charged £12.50 a day to drive within the Greater London area
Revisions to statutory mayoral strategies must be formally considered by the Assembly under the terms of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, and can be rejected by a two-thirds majority of AM – one of their few direct powers over the Mayor. In the event, the Tory group could not attract support beyond their own ranks, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green AMs combining to approve the update by 14 to nine.
The Tories nevertheless continued to trade statistics with the Mayor about the level of public support for the scheme, unveiling a poll suggesting 51 per cent of Londoners oppose the ULEZ becoming Londonwide and 34 per cent favour it, albeit respondents were told the scheme’s purpose was to “generate additional revenue” for TfL. A previous poll – conducted by the same company and commissioned by City Hall – which described the expansion’s purpose as tackling air pollution, suggested 51 per cent backing for the scheme and only 27 per cent opposed.
Reports have suggested that two-thirds of respondents to TfL’s consultation exercise about the scheme said it should not go ahead, though those results, which are subject to independent scrutiny, have yet to be published. They, along with further TfL analysis, will be released before a final decision on the expansion plans is taken before the end of the year, Khan said. “I haven’t made my mind up, but I do want to decide as quickly as I can,” he added.
Pressure has been mounting on the Mayor over the cost of living impact of the scheme on poorer Londoners and businesses in outer London, particularly in areas without extensive public transport links, and where car journeys can be seen as essential.
Help with scrapping non-compliant vehicles was available when the ULEZ was extended out to the North and South Circular roads, but with the Mayor concerned not to appear to pre-judge his final decision, no details have been provided for the current proposals.
While accepting the scheme would bring some “disbenefits”, Khan nevertheless doubled down on his proposals. “Every Londoner has the right to breathe clean air”, he said, accusing his opponents of “kicking the can down the road” in the face of “unequivocal” evidence of the health dangers of toxic air. “This is a matter of life and death,’ he told the Assembly. “I am not willing to duck these issues. I don’t want air pollution to be the tobacco of the 2020s.”
The outer London boroughs of Bromley, Barnet, Croydon and Havering had experienced the highest number of air pollution-related deaths in 2019, he said, showing that air quality was not solely a central London problem.
And he bolstered his argument with new City Hall figures showing a sharp rise in the numbers of London children admitted to hospital with asthma in 2021/22 – more than 3,600, up 64% on 2020/21 when Covid saw lower than usual pollution levels. Around half the children affected were from minority ethnic backgrounds.
The full Assembly debate can be viewed here.
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