Legal battle starts over ULEZ
London’s ULEZ mirrors similar low-emission zones to improve air quality in more than 200 cities in 10 countries across Europe
Emission Zone scheme is set
to be extended to all of Greater
London from August 29
UK court last week began considering contentious plans to extend a scheme obliging the most polluting vehicles to pay for using London’s roads, as opponents engage in protests – and even sabotage.
The high court case comes just weeks before London mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is set to take effect. The scheme – first introduced in 2019 and separate from the city’s two-decades-old congestion charge – requires more polluting vehicles to pay a £12.50 toll on days they are driven within inner London.
Its extension to all of Greater London from August 29 has prompted a fierce backlash from many living in and around the newly encompassed areas, who face fines of up to £160 for each day they fail to pay.
“It ain’t right. They’re hitting working class people again,” Chris Fordham, 62, said as he pulled up at a supermarket just beyond southeast London in his non-compliant 2012 diesel van.
“I’m thinking about packing up work,” added the self-employed builder, who crosses into the capital almost daily, blaming the imminent new charge and other soaring costs.
Several outer London local authorities and neighbouring Surrey County Council have lodged a court challenge to the way Khan decided on the expansion.
Khan, re-elected to a second term in 2021, ordered the new measure in November despite a public consultation suggesting most Londoners oppose it.
The Labour mayor, 52, insists the bigger ULEZ will help improve the city’s “toxic air pollution”, which causes thousands of annual deaths and life-changing illnesses.
He developed adult-onset asthma nine years ago and blames it on decades of breathing the capital’s poor air.
London’s ULEZ mirrors similar low-emission zones to improve air quality in more than 200 cities in 10 countries across Europe.
Petrol cars registered pre-2006 and diesel vehicles first registered before September 2015 are unlikely to meet the minimum emissions standards required.
Transport for London (TfL) estimated that fewer than 200,000 such vehicles currently enter the new zone, based on existing ULEZ camera analysis.
But the RAC motoring group used a freedom of information request to discover that more than 850,000 ineligible vehicles are registered within London alone.
Khan argues many of those are not actually driven in the capital.
He launched a scrappage scheme providing some funding to eligible vehicle owners. But critics say it does not go far enough.
Khan, who is running for a third four-year term as London’s mayor, acknowledged the need for support – pointing to the £110 million pound scrappage scheme to subsidise the cost of a newer vehicle by £2,000 and a list of exemptions, including for disabled people. “The independent assessment confirms that ULEZ works and the expansion will lead to 5 million more Londoners breathing cleaner air,” Khan told Reuters in an interview.
He pointed to research showing the introduction of the ULEZ in 2019 caused nitrogen dioxide levels to fall by nearly half in central London, and that the assessment had overall backed an expansion. Critics dispute the assessment’s conclusion.
Less than a year away from a mayoral election, irate callers are lighting up the switchboards on the capital’s radio phone-ins. Public cameras installed to enforce ULEZ have been vandalised. Other opponents have threatened disruptive protests.
But Khan, who wrote a book this year on air pollution and climate change, said he is determined to face down his critics.
“You’re not going to please a hundred per cent of people all the time,” he said. “No politician in history has managed to do so.”
Some experts say calculating the net benefits of a such an expansion can be complicated. Low emission zones make a lot of sense in city centres, where air pollution is higher and many public transport alternatives exist, said Thomas Verbeek, assistant professor in urban studies at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “But the further away from the city centre you go, the less you can improve air quality,” Verbeek added.
A YouGov poll last year showed 43 per cent of Londoners supported the planned expansion, while another eight per cent supported a delayed one.
About 27 per cent were opposed and the rest undecided.
Jemima Hartshorn, founder of campaign group Mums for Lungs and mother to an asthmatic daughter said it is often the poorest who suffer by living next to busy roads.
“It’s absolutely critical that even in a cost-of-living crisis we do not kick the can of air pollution down the road and let more children grow up unhealthy and unwell,” she said.
But others are focused on the economic harm it could cause if it stops shoppers, diners and workers like tree surgeon Cristina from coming into the city.
Teresa O’Neill, leader of one outer London council behind the court challenge, said that local businesses such as care agencies were fearful of losing staff while those in food and retail were worried of a fall in demand, as ULEZ drives up costs.
“I’ve been a leader now for 15 years … and I don’t think we’ve ever had an issue like this that has actually garnered so much attention,” she said. “People tell you they absolutely hate it.” (Agencies).