Will the law stop the ULEZ expansion? Challenges, proposals and non-starters

Will the law stop the ULEZ expansion? Challenges, proposals and non-starters

Opposition to introducing new road-user charging schemes in London, both real and made-up, is habitually loud, angry and expressed in the form of legal challenges. This has been very much the case with Sadiq Khan’s plan to enlarge the capital’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from inner London to cover the whole of Greater London from 29 August this year.

The air quality science and the politics of this initiative will be explored here another day. For now, let’s look at the laws relating to it and action being taken through the courts.

The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have reported that the Labour Mayor’s move “could be blocked” by the Conservative national government. They cite section 143 of the Greater London Authority Act (1999) – the legislation which brought the London mayoralty into existence – as providing grounds for doing so.

Section 143 gives the Secretary of State for Transport, currently Mark Harper, the power to “direct” – that is, order – the Mayor of London to make changes to his transport strategy if he considers it or any part of it “inconsistent with national policies relating to transport” and regards the claimed inconsistency “detrimental to any area outside Greater London”.

Minister for London Paul Scully, an MP for an outer London constituency, has been quoted, saying a Londonwide ULEZ would affect “a whole load of people in Surrey, Kent and Hertfordshire who didn’t get a say on it. It is taxation without representation”.

Could the government really use the law as it stands to stop the Mayor’s further expansion of the ULEZ? It looks unlikely. City AM has reported that the government itself has played down the idea, and seemingly with good reason.

The Mayor’s transport strategy was published in 2018. It contains numerous mentions of the ULEZ. They include (proposal 24) introducing it to central London in 2019 – implementing more quickly a policy originally adopted by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor – and then expanding it to cover inner London in 2021. Both changes apply to motorists based outside the areas affected. Both have been made without the national government trying to stop them.

Khan’s proposed further expansion to the whole of Greater London was not in the original transport strategy but has been added to it in the form of an amendment (proposal 24.1), approved by the London Assembly.

City Hall has responded bluntly to suggestions the government could block Khan’s plan with a statement the Mail included at the bottom of its coverage: ‘The Secretary of State could only use this power after changing national policy to prevent all cities charging drivers based on their emissions. Ministers have directed numerous UK cities to introduce clean air zones, and the government is under clear legal obligations to tackle air pollution.”

There are clean air zones in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth and Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead). The government’s website links to the specific rules operating in London.

What is the strength of Scully’s “taxation without representation” argument in relation to Home Counties motorists with vehicles that fail the ULEZ test?

It echoes what the then transport secretary Grant Shapps said in February 2021 after TfL suggested introducing a £3.50 per day boundary charge for vehicles not registered in London to enter the capital as one possible way of raising an extra £500 million a year. Offering such suggestions was a condition of TfL receiving emergency funding during the pandemic.

Shapps seemed to have forgotten that, for example, non-London registered vehicles had been paying the central London congestion charge since 2003 and that London-registered drivers pay road tolls outside London. Perhaps the minister for London forgot those things too.

The challenge to the Mayor’s scheme from four Conservative boroughs – Bromley, Bexley, Hillingdon and Harrow along with Surrey County Council (also Tory) – looks more substantial, albeit the bar is low. They are seeking a judicial review of the Mayor’s decision on five grounds, claiming:

  1. He failed to comply with “relevant statutory requirements”.
  2. He failed to “consider expected compliance rates in outer London”.
  3. His scrappage scheme was “not consulted on”.
  4. He didn’t carry out the cost benefit analysis to should have.
  5. His consultation about the scheme was “inadequate” and/or marred by “apparent predetermination arising from the conduct of the consultation”.

Bromley Council’s website provides helpful summaries of each of these arguments. The first maintains that the latest expansion has been wrongly treated as a simple variation on the previous one. The second says the Mayor didn’t provide any “meaningful information” about how he expected compliance rates to rise and that the consultation documents were “unclear and confusing”. The third contends that the scrappage scheme for helping some people and organisations meet the cost of upgrading their vehicles should have been consulted on outside London but wasn’t (that’s Surrey’s beef). The fourth refers to Treasury guidance relating to “significant new” public money being involved. And the fifth relates to Tory London Assembly group allegations that consultation responses were doctored.

On all of that we shall have to wait and see.

Finally, On London contributor Daniel Moylan, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, has proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill (page 83) currently going through parliament. Essentially, he wants to make it impossible for a Mayor of London to introduce a scheme like the ULEZ unless the councils of every borough that has roads within the area affected agree to it. The amendment has the backing of Boris Johnson. Again, time will tell.

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Categories: Analysis


  1. David Ganniclefft says:

    A consultation on the ulez expansion has taken place , the result was a 62 percentage against the implementation of the expansion. The mayor Sadiq khan is on record that he would go along with its findings to me that means that we the people have decided.

      1. Michael Carson says:

        Dave Hill……David G in the OP said that Khan is on record as saying that he would go along with its findings – why have you ignored that in your reply?
        The ULEZ expansion plan is going to disproportionately affect the poorest in London.
        The Mayor’s own business case document shows marginal improvement to air quality as a result of extending ULEZ (I know, because I’ve read it.)
        The ULEZ non-compliant vehicles are currently at least 10 years old and are a low % of total vehicles using London roads.
        Natural wastage/scrappage will see the numbers diminish over the next 10 years thereby reducing ULEZ income from them to nothing eventually.
        So all those cameras installed and maintained with no income……unless of course this is all being done to set up the infrastructure for road charging/pay per mile?? Surely a politician wouldn’t try to deceive us like that? 🙂

      2. Dave Hill says:

        The Mayor has never said he would “go along with” the findings of the consultation. I believe he made a general observation that there would have to be overwhelming opposition for him to reconsider the move. He doesn’t regard the consultation responses as demonstrating opposition on that scale. And, after all, people who respond to consultations on any subject are not statistically representative.

  2. Frederick w Cordier MBE says:

    Surely the M25 ring road should not come into this charge. I myself use it to access the A12, but going on the map of the new area there looks to be a charge. This will mean cars coming off the M25 before the charge and cutting through parts of Essex to pick up the A12. Not good .

  3. Sheila Coates says:

    I don’t think Sadiq Khan has thought about the implications of this at all. I live just half a mile inside the Havering boundary. I have changed my car to comply in case the ULEZ goes ahead – another second hand car, petrol. I bought a diesel as recommended by the government at the time but that has had to go. I’m now using almost double the fuel.

    People I know both inside and outside the zone whose cars don’t comply and care for elderly relatives, will not be able to do this. They too are not young and need transport. This will result in requiring care from the authorities, not free, most are on benefits, what a burden for the authorities who will require more “paid” carers – low paid carers who cannot afford to change their cars.

    Just inside the boundary are Tescos, Liddell B & Q and many other retailers, this is in Havering alone but all outer London Boroughs have these type of retail sites. Friends have said they will not be coming into the area to shop, massive problem for the trade in Greater London. The result of this at this time of financial crisis is colossal for the government and those in and around the area.

  4. Trevor Harvey says:

    How can a mayor arrange a consultation at huge cost and waste everyone’s time who engaged in it, then totally ignore its majority negtive results saying it wasn’t a referendum? Then to push ahead with a premature tax upon the poor with dishonest excuse (ie Londoners dying when in truth one asthma sufferer living in unsuited location sadly died) This behaviour should remove such an individual from office.

    1. Dave Hill says:

      A consultation is not a referendum or a “vote”. There is considerable evidence that poor air quality contributes to poor health. The next mayoral election will be in May 2024.

  5. Richard Town says:

    Shame you “forgot” to mention that four Labour MPs have come out against Khan’s mad land grab. Shame you forgot to mention that two Labour councils have come out against Khan. Shame you forgot to mention two Liberal Democrat councils have come out against. Shame you forgot to mention two London councils in no overall control have also come out against. Shame you painted the whole opposition to Khan as something of a Conservative-only acti0n — Shame on you Hill

    1. Dave Hill says:

      I didn’t “forget”. The article is about whether the law can or will prevent the expansion. None of the Labour MPs who have raised concerns are taking legal action or have expressed hope that the government will use present or additional legal powers to prevent it.

  6. Trevor Harvey says:

    A mayor that wastes money andour time on a CON sultation and then ignores its majority result saying afterwards that it wasn’t a referendum and proceeds regardless with arrangements already in place should be removed from office as unfit to serve the people.

    1. Dave Hill says:

      No consultation is a referendum and consultation findings are not binding on any Mayor. Claims that the consultation was a “con” have been made only by the Mayor’s Conservative opponents. He denies them.

  7. Stephen Thomas says:

    There should always be a vote allowed by the people when it is something that will affect us all on such a colossal level.

    As mentioned previously, it is more about making money than actual health reasons and as always the people it will hit hardest are the working class and poorest in society.

    Mr Khan obviously does not care about the ordinary working class people or the effects on businesses, transport, pensioners or day to day commuting.

    Always about money and nothing for the people.

  8. Mike Grant says:

    This is just mother Cash Grab against small business and mostly the less well off drivers in greater London.Take carers and women carrying children around and to school and shopping and they can’t find a newer car,nobody would do this by bus.

  9. Keith says:

    I took a council to the tribunal to have my clean air ticket revoked after the council rejected my request to have the ticket revoked, I included in my appeal that my Human Rights had been breached under unique circumstances and that my vehicle was a works vehicle, 3 qualified barristers sided with me and the council had to revoke my ticket a small victory for the working class

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