Susan Hall says she would ‘scrap ULEZ expansion on day one’. But how?

Susan Hall says she would ‘scrap ULEZ expansion on day one’. But how?

A consistent headline pledge of Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall has been to, in the words of her campaign website, “scrap the ULEZ expansion on day one”. Her language could hardly be clearer. But how, exactly, would she put her promise into effect? And would doing so be quite as simple as her message to London’s voters makes it sound?

Though invited by On London to explain how she would honour her promise if she wins on 2 May, neither Hall nor her campaign have responded. However, by looking at the legal powers London Mayors have regarding road-user charging schemes – of which the Ultra-Low Emission Zone is one – and how they have been made use of in the past, we can make informed deductions about what her course of action might be and also ponder possible obstacles to it.

A lot depends on what Hall means by “scrap”. Asked about the relevant mayoral powers, Transport for London, with operates all the schemes, pointed to Section 7 of the Transport for London Act of 2008 which says:

“Where it appears to TfL to be desirable or expedient TfL may suspend or partially suspend the operation of a TfL scheme for such period or periods as TfL thinks fit.”

Transport for London and the Mayor of London are not the same thing, but the former would be expected to implement such a major election promise by an incoming new Mayor. On the face of it, then, there is nothing to stop any Mayor of London having the operation of any of the capital’s road-user charging schemes, including the ULEZ, suspended, or partially suspended, any time they like. And there have been numerous suspensions in the past.

Sadiq Khan did it very recently, suspending the ULEZ for Christmas Day as well as maintaining the tradition of doing the same with the Congestion Charge from Christmas Day until New Year’s Day. Khan, of course, also suspended all of London’s road-user charging schemes – the ULEZ, the Congestion Charge and the Londonwide Low Emission Zone (no “ultra”) – with a couple of days’ notice in March 2020 in response to the first pandemic lockdown, then brought it back in a changed form that June

Also, back in February 2009, Boris Johnson when Mayor suspended the Congestion Charge at the drop of a hat one lunchtime after heavy snowfall brought public transport largely to a halt, enabling people to instead travel by motor vehicle in central London charge-free. He un-suspended it the following day.

If, then, by “scrap the ULEZ expansion on day one” Hall means she would get TfL to immediately stop operating the ULEZ outside the North and South Circular Roads – from which Khan extended it on 29 August last year – then her pledge appears entirely credible.

And those who want to once again drive the most polluting motor vehicles around the capital’s suburbs free of a daily charge (or “tax” as Hall calls it) might well regard her promise as having been kept.


However, such a suspension could still be ended by a future Mayor. In that sense, it would not have been scrapped, just rendered operationally dormant. To “scrap” it in a more fundamental way would take longer and perhaps be trickier for Hall.

The most instructive precedent is the then Mayor Johnson’s removal of the western extension of the Congestion Charge zone – known as the WEZ – which had been introduced by his predecessor Ken Livingstone in February 2007.

In line with a 2008 manifesto promise, Johnson, having had TfL conduct a survey of Londoners and London businesses about the WEZ, proceeded on the basis of responses to it to set about reversing what Livingstone had done. This entailed TfL introducing a “variation” to the original Greater London (Central Zone) Congestion Charging Order, made on on 23 July 2001, which had enabled the original Congestion Charge zone, the “principal scheme” as it is formally termed, to come into existence in February 2003.

All new road-user charging schemes require a “charging order” to set them up and a “variation order” to make changes to them later. Those powers were created under Section 295(2) of the Greater London Authority Act (1999), and Schedule 23 of it sets out in detail how road-user charging schemes should be implemented and operated.

Variation orders are also required to change the size of a road user charge. Another option open to Hall, as transport consultant Nick Lester-Davis, who has long experience in London, has pointed out would be to follow up an initial suspension with a variation order reducing the the ULEZ charge outside the North and South Circulars to to zero.

The ULEZ derives from another Livingstone initiative, the Low Emission Zone (no “ultra”), known as the LEZ, which came into effect in February 2008 after the Greater London Low Emission Zone Charging Scheme Order was made in November 2006.

A subsequent variation order created the original central London ULEZ. That order was made in October 2014 under Johnson, who confirmed it in March 2015 (with some modifications) and scheduled the new “ultra low” section of the zone to come into effect in September 2020, covering exactly the same 21 square kilometre area of Central London as the surviving original Congestion Charge zone.

Under Mayor Khan, elected in May 2016, a further order was made in March 2017 to bring the Johnson ULEZ scheme forward, enabling it to come into effect in April 2019 instead. Khan subsequently approved further variations to the original LEZ scheme order to greatly expand the application of ULEZ anti-pollution standards: first from central London out to (but not including) the North and South Circular roads from 25 October 2021; then, from 29 August 2023, to expand it again to cover all of Greater London’s 1,570 square kilometres (606 square miles).

It is, of course, that latter expansion Hall says she would get rid of. She has changed her mind about the ULEZ in the past – having opposed the first expansion, she now says it would stay if she became Mayor. But there has been no sign of her U-turning over the second expansion. Could anything block her path?


Trying to answer that question is probably a mug’s game. And with the most recent opinion polls suggesting that Hall is unlikely to become Mayor, it might also be highly theoretical.

Even so, a Hall victory on 2 May cannot be ruled out. If her prospects appear to improve closer to election day, opponents of her “scrap” pledge will look for ways to make things difficult for her. It will also be scrutinised by serious journalists who are not part of the various media organisations acting as propaganda arms of her election campaign (principally, the Express, the Mail, the Sun, the Telegraph, GB News and Talk Radio).

The financial implications for TfL will be of interest. Johnson, surely mindful of TfL’s calculation that abolishing the WEZ would cost it a good £55 million a year, did not suspend gathering charges from the WEZ area prior to expunging it. Soon after, he increased the charge for the remaining central zone. How would Hall have TfL, already under financial pressure, make up for the loss of income from the second ULEZ expansion? So far, she has said nothing about her plans for remaining ULEZ or Congestion Charge levels or public transport fares. At some stage, she will have to.

But arguments about the financial implications seem unlikely to prompt a second ULEZ U-turn by the Tory candidate. So could Hall’s use of her mayoral powers provoke an outbreak of  “lawfare”?

Setting aside those for Christmas and New Year, previous suspensions of road-user charging schemes – Johnson’s very short one in 2009, Khan’s due to Covid-19 in 2020 – were temporary responses to exceptional situations, not actions taken simply because the Mayor in question disliked the road-user charging scheme in question. Could it be claimed that Hall suspending the latest ULEZ expansion simply because she didn’t like it – and doing so for as long as it took for a variation order banishing it to be made – represented a misuse of TfL’s powers?

And what if Hall’s policy could be shown to have contributed to air quality in the latest expansion area being illegal under UK law? A City Hall study of air quality findings across Greater London published in April 2023, prior to the second expansion, found that levels of the noxious gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were, at more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air, already in breach of legal limits at five or more locations within 14 of the capital’s 32 boroughs. Could Hall’s policy be held to have reversed progress towards legal air quality?

We are in the realm of speculation. But the WEZ precedent might again be helpful. There were concerns that Johnson’s removal of it would worsen air quality in the area affected, even though it was an anti-congestion measure, not an anti-pollution one. The Clean Air in London campaign claimed that harmful emissions would rise by eight per cent and, after considering suing Johnson, received assurances from him that “compensatory measures” would be taken.

Those were contained in an air quality strategy, published shortly before the WEZ was brought to an end. One of them was to apply a technology called SCOOT to traffic lights in busy areas such as Brompton Road so that vehicle flows were managed more smoothly, leading to less pollution from vehicles idling. Hall has spoken of applying individual anti-pollution remedies in what she calls “hot spots” where air quality is particularly bad. Has she had Johnson’s WEZ experience in mind?


Diverting it may be, but all is conjecture until Hall can no longer avoid answering questions about how her “scrap” ULEZ policy would work, and until any serious challenges to the process she chooses emerge. Meanwhile, the debate about air quality and how best to improve it will continue in different forms with a wide range of participants.

For example, Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Rob Blackie has advocated adjustments to the ULEZ which he argues would make it “fairer”. The Greens’ Zoe Garbett has indicated that she thinks it isn’t comprehensive enough. Clean Air in London is seeking to focus attention on diesel-powered vehicles. Its founder and director Simon Birkett told On London:

“After nine phases of low and ultra low emission zones, with all vehicles and areas finally included and just 5,386 diesel cars first registered in 2022, London is well on the way to phasing out carcinogenic diesel exhaust. We need mayoral candidates to set a target for London to be diesel-free by 2030, with limited exceptions, so that people are discouraged from buying these vehicles and the job is finished.”

Meanwhile, Howard Cox, mayoral candidate of the radical right nationalist Reform UK says if he were elected he would get rid of the ULEZ altogether. Cox will not win the election. Hall, though, might and before too long the practicalities of how she would honour her ULEZ pledge will have to emerge into the limelight.

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Categories: Analysis


  1. Democratic says:

    Do not tell me that you are here to back anti democratic Khan he has violated democracy ove r the fact that 66 percent of outer Londoners didn’t want Ulez in the first place and it wasn’t in his manifesto and knife crime will surge through the roof if he is elected on May 2 and if you back Khan you back no hope for London you back an update version of communism in London and you back London having a natural disaster in city hall to launch a big war on motorists and heavily tax the poor!!

    1. Dave Hill says:

      You refer to responses to the consultation over the second ULEZ expansion. Consultations are not referendums and their outcomes are not binding on Mayors, whatever the issue in question.

      This website will be taking a close look at “knife crime” trends in London and elsewhere before too long.

      1. Mark L says:

        It’s also fair to say that those who supported the expansion of ULEZ probably would not have submitted their views in response to the consultation. There were just short of 58,000 responses to the consultation, of which 31,406 stated that they lived in outer London, which probably suggests that the vast majority of Londoners weren’t sufficiently exercised to object.

  2. This is an excellent piece of work by Dave Hill. Our latest issue Greater London Transport Newsletter (out 15th) leads with a leak of Transport for London preparing un-democratic opposition to any Tory-led switch off of any part of the ULEZ toll generating machine.

    No one in the Tory factions wants to see central London’s eight square mile switched off. There’s just too many “hot spots” of pollution to be dealt with first, each a product of contiguous key traffic routes that’ve evolved from the failures of previous administrations and the olde Greater London Council’s inner and outer motorway boxes — but it’s worse than that.

    There is a democratic deficit on hand: Susan Hall goes around studios promising to switch off ULEZ “on day one” of being elected, but not saying that means only outer London’s doughnut. Inner London’s Conservative Association chiefs are not amused having been “Sold Dahn the River” by Tory former transport secretary Grant Shapps giving the nod to mayor Khan for his first expansion. There’s up to 174,000 (calculated on a 41 percent turnout) votes available ready to be mopped up by Howard Cox and his Reform UK that’s promised to “switch off all ULEZ” on his “day one”. Reform UK stands at only nine percent in the polls.

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