Last month, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan successfully defended his plan to expand the London ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone), despite legal challenges from five Conservative-led councils. The senior judge dismissed a case brought by Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon alongside Surrey County Council challenging the proposed extension to cover all of London by the end of August.
Following the “landmark” outcome, the Mayor of London was pleased to announce that the ULEZ expansion will continue as planned. The five councils involved said they were “hugely disappointed” with the ruling and added that the mayor and TFL “do not realise the damage” the expansion will cause.
The “decision was not easy but necessary to reduce the capital’s toxic air pollution”
–Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
The expansion seeks to cover the entirety of Greater London, up to the Kent border and into Essex from 29 August. People across the capital will be liable to a £12.50 daily charge for driving non-compliant vehicles in the zone, which includes select cars, vans and even motorcycles. Sadiq Khan has said that the “decision was not easy but necessary to reduce the capital’s toxic air pollution”. To tackle the costs of the expansion, a scrappage scheme worth £110 million has been implemented to provide low-income Londoners with a grant of up to £2000. This is intended to help replace the highest polluting vehicles. However, the councils feel that not enough is being done. Speaking to the BBC, executive mayor of Croydon Jason Perry, said that pushing those who cannot afford to buy a more modern vehicle is “deeply unfair and out of touch”, particularly when the cost of living is increasing.
From my experience of living in the London borough of Redbridge, I’ve heard vast amounts of disapproval for the scheme. Labour-led Redbridge Council have expressed concerns that low-income households must be “appropriately supported”, in addition to concerns with TFL around eligibility for the scrappage scheme. Ever since the ULEZ cameras were installed earlier this year, I’ve seen countless banners of protest, more often than not specifically aimed at the Mayor himself.
Many Londoners feel that the expansion is less about the environment, and more of a government-led cash grab
So-called ULEZ ‘Blade Runners’ have also been rife, which has seen masked people actively dismantling and vandalising the cameras. Last week it was reported that 11 ULEZ cameras were stolen and another 17 were vandalised. A video recently went viral of a member of the group sabotaging a £7000 ULEZ camera in Bromley in response to the High Court’s decision. A spokesperson for the London Mayor said that it is “deeply disappointing” to see opposition to the expansion being used as an “excuse for criminal damage”. The spokesperson added that it was “petty vandalism” and is “completely unacceptable”. Among the opposition includes Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who called on the Mayor to scrap the expansion following the disapproval of several Conservative MPs.
Many Londoners feel that the expansion is less about the environment, and more of a government-led cash grab. The last time the ULEZ was expanded in 2022, a debt-ridden TFL made nearly £100,000,000 in less than a year. With all the signage, marketing, detection and enforcement infrastructure, the set-up costs for the latest expansion are estimated to reach £140 million. Meanwhile, TFL expects the expanded ULEZ could make “up to £200 million a year”. Added to that is the detriment to the second-hand car industry, and according to The Telegraph, a used ULEZ-friendly car now costs £3000 more than its predecessor on average. The £3000 difference is typically the cheapest way to go about the transition, which would be a minimal upgrade from a non-compliant 2015 model to a compliant 2016 model.
The success of the expansion ultimately comes down to whether the environmental benefits outweigh the economic implications the scheme imposes
Surely questions must be asked as to what happens should the Mayor decide to move the goalposts. That seems to be one of the biggest fears amongst Londoners, particularly amid the projected electric cars takeover by 2030.
The success of the expansion ultimately comes down to whether the environmental benefits outweigh the economic implications the scheme imposes. Environmental campaigners have very much welcomed the High Court’s verdict. Clean Air Wins, a campaign aimed at reducing air pollution, said that the decision is a “huge victory” in the fight for clean air. They added that it is a “crucial step forward in protecting the health of all Londoners from toxic air pollution”.
However, back in July 2022, the government released a six-month report which showed that the expansion of the ULEZ to the North Circular had a limited impact on pollution in the new areas. Time will tell how successful the new expansion will be, however I envisage myself alongside many Londoners hoping that the investment is worthwhile.