Sadiq Khan’s announcement that the capital’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) will be enlarged to encompass the whole of Greater London next year, pending a public consultation, has been greeted with both tempered praise and familiar criticism.
Perhaps the loudest cheer from outside Labour ranks has come from London Assembly Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the Assembly’s transport committee. Her welcome was unqualified, describing the Mayor’s move as “right and necessary” and pointing out that “air pollution does not stop at the South and North Circular”. She added that the policy should be “coupled with an ambitious scrappage scheme” to help disabled people and Londoners on low incomes replace vehicles that don’t meet ULEZ standards.
Green Assembly Member Sian Berry’s response took the double-edged form of congratulating the Mayor for adopting a policy her party advocated in 2016. Nick Bowes, chief executive of Centre for London, praised the move as “another step forward for a cleaner city” but said it must be “a short-term stepping stone to a smarter pay-per-mile road user charging scheme”, an innovation the think tank has advocated for a while. Bowes also was also at one with Pidgeon in calling for improvements in outer London public transport.
Business group London First’s response was more lukewarm, with transport programme director Adam Tyndall welcoming Khan’s move as giving a “boost to air quality across the capital” but saying it was “disappointing that the Mayor is relying on a mechanism that will run out of the road in the next few years” and hoping that the public consultation will lead to “a more integrated scheme” that will also address London’s “chronic congestion” and be “cost-effective for the essential road users and businesses who keep our city working”.
Conservatives have been negative in a particular way. Susan Hall, who leads the Assembly Tory group, reacted to Khan’s announcement by saying “to be fair Khan will have made a difference to London’s air quality” but agreed with a claim on Twitter that the expansion of the ULEZ has come at the expense and “possible destruction” of many small businesses. Her colleague Emma Best accused the Mayor of targeting “cars that are naturally coming off the road anyway” and of “cleaning our air on the backs of the poorest Londoners”.
Khan’s argument against Conservative claims that in objecting to ULEZ expansion they they are sticking up for the least affluent continues to be that air pollution hits the poorest communities hardest. He also states that “nearly half of Londoners don’t own a car” in the first place. Owners of cars, vans and motorbikes that do not comply with ULEZ standards have to pay a charge of £12.50 for driving within the zone.
His announcement, made in a speech delivered in Lewisham, also ruled out a “low-level daily clean air charge for all but the cleanest vehicles” and formally put to bed the idea of a daily “boundary charge” on vehicles registered outside London entering the city.
The boundary charge idea was included among suggestions submitted to the government in January 2021 as a condition of receiving financial support after Covid choked off TfL’s revenue from public transport fares. It was publicly rubbished by transport secretary Grant Shapps on ITV London News the following month and therefore highly unlikely to have ever been introduced, although Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey falsely claimed during last year’s election campaign that “anyone driving into Greater London would have to pay £5.50” if Khan was re-elected.
Khan said his decision to pursue enlarging the ULEZ to cover the whole of Greater London, having extended it from a small part of the central out to the North and South Circular roads in October, was informed by concerns about the impact on the cost of living. “At a time when people’s budgets are under pressure, I’m not willing to ask people to pay more unless I’m absolutely convinced it’s justified to save lives and protect the health of Londoners,” he said. He pledged to make available the biggest possible scrappage scheme, calling on government support to that end.
The earlier extension of the ULEZ saw a reduction in traffic levels and pollution both within the zone and in areas just outside it, but also a larger than expected percentage of vehicles meeting ULEZ standards, meaning TfL has been making less money from the change than anticipated.
Updated on 8 March 2002 to include London First response.
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