Sadiq Khan’s ultra low emission zone set to be mayoral election battleground

Sadiq Khan’s ultra low emission zone set to be mayoral election battleground

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.

Categories: Analysis


  1. John Wallace says:

    If I drive into the zone (where my garage is), and leave the car there, do I still pay the daily charge although I am not using it?

  2. JEFF O'BRIAN says:

    It’s necessary to clean the air but why is it that you can drive in the ULEZ if you have plenty of money but can’t if you are a working person who followed government advice to buy a diesel and can’t afford to buy an expensive new car?
    This policy is elitist. It favours the rich. A disgrace to a ‘Labour’ Mayor.
    Surely a token system could have been developed,-the number of tokens issued to drivers to drive in the ULEZ diminishing over time to meet emissions targets. Clearly the ULEZ is yet another money-making scheme at the expense of the workers, – in no way is this a socialist scheme , -it’s shameful that a Labour mayor proposed it.
    And where is the government initiative to help diesel drivers fit filters? Where is the charge upon diesel manufacturers that rigged the emissions test, -the charge that would pay for the filters? Central and local government that cares little for working people.
    The fee-based ULEZ is unfair. WW2 rationing ensured the poor as well as the rich got fed fairly. The situation before rationing was brought in threatened workers’ revolts and it was a wise government that set up fair rationing. A shame and pity that our Mayor and his advisers say the’re socialists but act like every governemnt since Thatcher who sought to control all by financial means instead of fair means.

  3. Jeff O'Brian says:

    Will there will be a consequential rise in the level of traffic on the S and N circular roads and on the M25 when the ULEZ starts, -traffic that would otherwise travel into or through the ULEZ?

    Will the ULEZ do no more than shift the problem from the central zone, dispersing it into the peripheral zone?

    Without a rapid en-masse shift to non-polluting vehicles, and this seems extremely unlikely, it seems logical to assume that the decrease in emissions in the ULEZ will be matched by an increase in emissions and traffic in the peripheral zone.

    It would be interesting to know if an impact assessment has been performed to estimate levels of pollution and any other consequences that may fall upon outlying boroughs bordering the above-mentioned major routes and on the residential back streets that may be in danger of becoming ‘rat-runs’ created by a post-ULEZ gross overload on those already congested major routes.

    In the shameful absence of a national strategy local authorities can only dump the problem onto someone else’s area!

    And given that the majority of working people need to use the vehicles they actually own, and not the fantasy electric vehicles they can’t afford, the problem will continue. Dumping the pollution on victims outside of whatever zone is effectively reserved for the affluent who can afford new cars or heavy fees is not the answer.
    A rationing system that applies to all, rich and poor, is the only fair way forward. To press ahead using financial penalties as a deterrent will alienate the vast amount of people of modest income from the local authority and the politicians who represent them.
    For the many, not the few!

  4. Mark Davis says:

    This will affect the poor people and a lot of people don’t qualify for his scheme that pays little and the reality is that poor people cant afford expensive cars so extending this will hurt poor people in the pocket.

    Ridiculous to extend it to outer London.

  5. Khalil Gearay says:

    I live in an area that I will be affected by the extension of ULEZ zone of North circular road A406.
    I bought my diesel car 11 years ago as the environmentalists were encouraging to buy diesel engine cars for their fuel economy. I did not know that the government will ban these cars after 11 years
    Now I am at a loss don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to buy newer car and my car runs perfectly well.
    It is pointless to extend the Ulez zone and hit poor people more financially. I think if the Mayor wants to push his policy then he should help everyone regardless of their personal circumstances who are going to be affected. It shouldn’t only help people who are on benefits. It is not my fault to buy diesel engine car 11 years ago.
    I just hope that Sadiq khan looses election and the Ulez extension is scrapped .

  6. Lawrence osullivan says:

    I am with you all the way and most of London he is the worst mayor we have ever had he seems to be all for the cyclists and against the motorist
    He is using this as a cash cow to get money from an easy target cyclists have there own lanes but don’t have insurance and pay nothing towards road tax

  7. Tracey McKeever says:

    I hope you are right and he loses the election worst mayor ever for motorist’s
    The ulez and the congestion charge is just to make money
    If you have a badly polluting car you can drive it anywhere in London as long as you pay for the privilege how does that make any sense moneymaker nothing else

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