In just under a month’s time, on 8 April, Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will come into force. It’s another ambitious City Hall move, tackling air pollution by bringing forward enforcement of the toughest vehicle emission standards of any city in the world.
The zone will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the same Central London area covered by the congestion charge, with a £12.50 daily charge for most vehicles, rising to £100 for buses, coaches and lorries if strict standards on nitrogen oxides and particulate pollutant emissions are not met. You can check if your vehicle will be liable to pay the charge here.
The figures on air pollution are stark – some 40,000 premature deaths every year across the UK, some 9,000 in London, illegally high pollution levels around more than 400 London schools, and an estimated cost to the capital’s economy of up to £3.5 billion annually. These underpin the Mayor’s “public health emergency” claims.
Air pollution is among the primary causes of cancer, increases the risk of asthma and dementia, and can stunt children’s lung development. Road transport is the greatest contributor to London’s air pollution, responsible for around half of air pollutants.
A curb on polluting vehicles was agreed in 2014 by Boris Johnson, for implementation in 2020. His successor has not only accelerated the timetable and toughened standards, but also confirmed a significant extension of the zone out to the North and South Circular Roads in October 2021.
The Central London ULEZ is forecast to reduce toxic emissions by around 45 per cent by 2020, with further reductions when the extension comes into force and all schools meeting legal pollution limits by 2025.
The timing of the extension inevitably makes London’s air pollution an issue for the 2020 mayoral election, with Conservative contender Shaun Bailey already pledged to “scrap the suburban driving tax”. Might we see a repeat of the Inner London versus Outer London aspect of the 2008 contest between Johnson and Ken Livingstone, with its battle over the congestion charge zone’s western extension? This had been introduced by Livingstone but was scrapped by Johnson after his election win after he promised to consult on it again.
With Labour’s Chingford & Woodford Green parliamentary hopeful Faiza Shaheen also warning the charge could be unfair to poor Londoners, Khan is marshalling heavyweight evidence that tackling air pollution is a “fundamental issue of social justice”.
He told the London Labour conference earlier this month that “those who suffer most from toxic air are the poorest Londoners who have the fewest cars.” City Hall studies suggest that the poorest Londoners are exposed on average to a quarter more nitrogen dioxide pollution than the least deprived, and that 65 per cent of the most deprived households do not own a car compared with 14 per cent of the least deprived households.
Research released in January found that the ultra-low emission zone would address the exposure gap, reducing it by 72 per cent by 2030, and reduce exposure at all schools to legal levels or below, benefiting the poorest Londoners most.
“It is certain communities which are affected by filthy air the most,” Khan said at the report launch. “It cannot be right that your background and where you live determines the quality of the air you breathe and that is exactly why measures like the Ultra-Low Emission Zone are so vital.”
Khan is putting £48 million into a scrappage fund to help “micro-businesses” and low-income Londoners change to cleaner vehicles, and has also joined other city leaders in calling for £1.5 billion government investment to fund vehicle upgrades across the country.