Opposition to the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which has been expanded to much of outer London today, has simply demonstrated where third-rate Conservative politicians’ priorities lie – and that’s not with the public nor the planet. By our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION
Today marks the first day of the extension of ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emission Zone, to the majority of Greater London, including Bromley, Sutton and Croydon. And guess what? Despite all the dire warnings and doom-mongering, the world has not come to an end…
And yes, extending ULEZ to the outer fringes of the capital definitely will improve air quality.
Air pollution in Croydon has been particularly bad and getting worse throughout this century; the extension of ULEZ will force some of the most polluting vehicles off the road, or make the polluter pay, with £12.50 per day charges for those driving non-compliant vehicles. It’s no more of a “tax”, as the detractors claim, than the 10p carrier bag levy charged at supermarket check-outs which has vastly reduced demand for single-use plastic bags.
Given that the drivers of the most polluting vehicles have been offered thousands of pounds of public cash under a scrappage scheme towards a replacement, the opposition to ULEZ really has taken Trumpian idiocy to new lows of numbskullery.
Yet still they come back with ever greater lies: the latest was splashed across the front page of a right-wing national newspaper on Sunday, claiming that there is a “Secret” ooo! “Labour plan to charge drivers by the mile”.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London who is ultimately responsible for extending ULEZ, felt the need to respond on social media to the newspaper scare story. “This is nonsense,” said Khan.
“Let me be crystal clear – a pay per mile scheme is not on the table and not on my agenda.”
The matter of a new, tech-based road taxing system is far from a “secret”, and is certainly not a solely Labour policy. The Department for Transport has been researching the matter for several years while under a Conservative government. There was a time when even Rishi Sunak thought it was a good idea.
Mayor Khan has been quite transparent about the whole matter. He announced in January 2022 that he had asked Transport for London to “start exploring” how a more technologically sophisticated, pay-per-mile, “simple, fair road user charging system” could be developed to potentially replace all of London’s existing schemes, including the Congestion Charge and ULEZ.
This was in response to a report he commissioned on how London could hit a “net zero” climate change target by 2030 and improve air quality concluding that car travel in the capital would have to reduce by 27per cent compared with 2018 levels.
“However, it’s clear the technology to implement such a scheme is still years away from being ready,” Mayor Khan said publicly, a view that appears to be shared by the DfT.
But hey, there’s elections coming up – next May, across London – and the deeply unpopular Conservatives are even more unpopular in London than they are in the rest of the country. Compound that by the Tories having messed up their mayoral candidate selection to arrive at Susan Hall, who makes Liz Truss seem like an intellectual giant and holds questionable attitudes on racism, and they are facing one of their worst London election outcomes ever.
So pretty much the only electoral card the Tories have to play in London is “scary ULEZ” and the demonisation of Sadiq Khan, with a kind of barely disguised Islamophobia that they tried, and failed with, in the capital-wide elections in 2016 and 2021… Only this time round, they don’t even appear to be bothering to try to disguise the Islamophia, as the Tories sink ever lower.
Certainly, the scare stories that have been pushed out over the past few months by Tory politicians, including the part-time Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry, have intended to stir up division and hate, rather than put forward any real argument for alternative pollution-reduction measures, while seeming almost to condone hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage and vandalism to public property – the ULEZ cameras and infrastructure.
So to mark today’s ULEZ expansion, let’s deal with some of the hard facts that some of the opposition groups, including those which have received funding from Trump supporters in the United States, would prefer you didn’t know.
London’s original Ultra Low Emission Zone was devised by Boris Johnson during his time as London Mayor. It was implemented by his successor as Mayor, Khan, on April 8 2019.
Today’s expansion is very much a “soft” launch, and it is most unlikely that anyone is going to pay the £12.50 ULEZ fine. Mayor Khan has pretty much said as much. For a few weeks, TfL will just send out warning letters to first-time offenders, as they did when the ULEZ started and when it was extended to the North and South Circulars in October 2021.
Croydon’s Mayor, pro-pollution Perry, likes to say that he “doesn’t believe” that ULEZ will make any difference to air quality. Perry sells plastic guttering for a living, while dealing in weapons-grade bullshit as the £84,000 Mayor of Croydon. He has no recognised scientific qualifications.
ULEZ will reduce emissions in the zone’s area.
A report for City Hall published in February said that since 2019 ULEZ had led to a reduction of 26per cent in Nitrogen Oxide, NOx, in the air within the zone. Even outside the zone, it was calculated that there would be a 23per cent reduction across Greater London as whole, compared with what the levels would have been without it.
The level of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) was said to be down by 46per cent and 21per cent in central and inner London respectively. Reductions at roadside locations were said to be still bigger.
The same report said fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air had reduced by 19per cent within the ULEZ and by 7per cent across Greater London altogether since 2019.
Emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the “greenhouse gas” most responsible for global warming and climate change, were also said to have fallen, by 4per cent with the ULEZ and by 3per cent more widely.
And the thing is, ULEZ is actually a lot more popular with Londoners than, say, well… the Conservatives.
In June this year, Redfield and Wilton polled Londoners, inner and outer, for their views on ULEZ. They found 57per cent of all Londoners supported ULEZ.
In inner London, where the benefits have been experienced over the past four years, that support figure rose to 66per cent – 2-in-3 people. Only 17per cent of inner Londoners actually oppose ULEZ, according to the survey.
Yet even in outer London, more than half of people said that they support ULEZ. And Tory hopes that drumming up opposition to Boris Johnson’s ULEZ idea might somehow be a game-changer for them at election time appear to be badly misjudged (no change there then!), with only 29per cent of outer Londoners saying that they oppose ULEZ – and this in polling conducted when the gammon-led anti-ULEZ bandwagon was trundling along at full tilt.
However, when the survey sample was asked a different question, which gave a choice between the full expansion, scrapping the ULEZ entirely and keeping it to its North and South Circular, largely inner London, boundary, only 32per cent favoured the full expansion.
And while piss-poor Perry and the Conservatives, the self-proclaimed “party of business”, try playing the populist card over ULEZ, they have overlooked the views of business organisations in London, which are generally in favour of ULEZ expansion. They think cleaner London air is good for London business, because it’s good for public health and good for London’s reputation as a desirable place in which to work and invest.
BusinessLDN and the London Chamber of Commerce have consistently backed ULEZ expansion, while expressing the caveat that they wished Mayor Khan had introduced it more gradually and with more flexibility. Mayor Khan’s recent increased scrappage offer, for example, could have been announced six months sooner, and at a stroke disarmed much of the criticism thrown his way.
But then, the matter of ULEZ has been badly handled by City Hall from the very start.
Some environmental charities and pressure groups are (in private) really hacked off with the Mayor of London’s office as they have often been asked to field media interviews defending the policy, while very few Labour politicians have been willing to do so.
Keir Starmer’s decision after the Uxbridge by-election defeat (where Labour’s campaign was strongly influenced by Croydon North’s anti-LTN MP Steve Reed) to abandon ULEZ, and Khan, could have long-lasting implications within the party.
It is almost certainly in large part responsible for Khan’s popularity ratings in outer London falling to -24, according to the Evening Boris last week.
And there are a multitude of contradictions in Khan’s environmental policies.
The fact that Khan gave the green light to the Silvertown Tunnel is also something many environmental groups and charities are angry about, but feel that they have had to keep schtum because of the ULEZ controversy.
There are other carbon-reducing policies that environmental charities feel the Mayor’s office is not properly engaging with, such as simply having ambitious policies to reduce vehicle traffic in general.
The immediate issue today is the matter of ULEZ signage – or the lack of it – in Surrey and other neighbouring authorities.
This is surely peak Tory numbskullery – with decisions not to allow warning signs on the approach to the ULEZ area being criticised even by motoring organisations such as the RAC.
Kent, Essex, Thurrock and Hertfordshire have taken similar inaction to Surrey. All are Conservative-controlled councils, demonstrating that the Tories will put their political campaigning ahead of the best interests of the public time after time.
The bottom line is that some clear signage ahead of the hard boundaries of the ULEZ would be really useful to many motorists – and might even help a few save some money.
According to a long-time City Hall insider, “The policy these councils are adopting will actually hit their residents – and some who can avoid driving into the actual ULEZ when extended will be paying for it due to the lack of signage.
“They would rather inconvenience their residents as part of their overall goal of attacking a Labour Mayor of the capital.”
In general, people do not know the precise boundaries of outer London and where the Home Counties start. Last week, when the TfL press office was asked for a detailed map of the boundaries in and around Coulsdon, Purley and Kenley, they were unable to provide anything in close detail.
The best that they could offer was, “Your readers may wish to use our online postcode checker to check whether a location falls within the zone,” and to provide this link to the do-it-yourself checker.
The actual boundaries of the ULEZ extension are not the the boundaries of outer London. The A22, for instance, all the way to Purley, is not a ULEZ designated road. There are gaps all around Coulsdon and Kenley, too.
But ULEZ is here now, in Croydon, in Sutton, in Bromley and Bexley. And still the Earth spins on its axis… Maybe, just maybe, the expansion of ULEZ is one small measure that might just help stop the world from burning to a complete frazzle, too.
Read more: Police investigating 300+ cases of ULEZ camera vandalism
Read more: London Mayor announces extra £50m for ULEZ scrappage
Read more: Ignore ULEZ scare stories – it will reduce traffic and save lives
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