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Ulez Expansion Comes Into Force

ulez

The expansion of the controversial Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has come into force in London’s outer boroughs today. The boundary, which charges motorists £12.50 a day if their car does not comply with emissions standards, now covers the outer boroughs of the capital, having previously just applied in central London.

What is happening today?

ULEZ was first proposed by former London mayor (and now ex-prime minister) Boris Johnson and came into force in central London back in 2019 in an attempt to reduce harmful air pollution in the city’s busiest streets. It was extended by Sadiq Khan in 2021 to cover inner London – up to the north and south circular roads – which led to a reduction in toxic nitrogen dioxide concentrations, according to a City Hall report.

Under the Ulez expansion, those with heavily polluting cars will have to pay £12.50 a day to drive within all areas of the Greater London Authority boundary. Transport for London (TfL) and City Hall now estimate that air pollution has reduced by a quarter as less than 6% of vehicles driven in the zone are non-compliant.

Sadiq Khan shared a post on X which provided information about the Ulez expansion, along with the statement that 5 million more people will now breathe cleaner air in London.

However, drivers have faced queues online in checking whether their cars are compliant with the scheme or not due to the high level of traffic going to Transport for London’s website. People have also been protesting against the expansion.

Controversy over Ulez

Sadiq Khan’s plans have faced controversy since their unveiling, with some people in the affected areas demonstrated opposition to the expansion as it remains an unpopular policy amongst some drivers in the suburbs. Critics note the lack of public transport services outside of inner London mean driving is less of a choice in the outer boroughs.

However, earlier this year, controversy over the expansion developed into legal action being taken against the Mayor of London as a judge permitted the case to be heard in the high court. Five Conservative-led councils in the suburbs (Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey) brought legal proceedings against the plan, arguing that Sadiq Khan had acted beyond his powers in the way he set about proposing to expand the clean air zone from the inner boundary of the North and South Circular roads across all 33 boroughs.

The councils had described the Ulez expansion as a “tax on living in outer London”, where they said poorer public transport connections left residents much more reliant on cars. It is estimated that up to one in five cars and almost half of vans registered to an address in some outer London boroughs fail to meet the Ulez emission rules, meaning they will be liable for the £12.50-a-day levy.

Yet, delivering his 18-page ruling, Mr Justice Swift said the grounds of claim brought against the Mayor’s Ulez expansion had been rejected. He stated “I’m satisfied the Mayor’s decision to expand the Ulez area by amending the present road charging scheme rather than submitting an entirely new scheme was within his powers. Having carefully considered the decision published for the purposes of consultation, I’m satisfied sufficient information was provided to permit this wanting to respond to the consultation to provide informed responses”.

However, this did not halter controversy; Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has asked Surrey and Kent councils to “put their politics aside” and allow signs to be placed which will warn drivers of the Ulez border. Both councils said they would not allow signage due to claiming that there is no mitigation to minimise the impact of the expansion of the boundary on their residents.

Moreover, it was revealed that the Government had considered attempting to block the Ulez expansion but dropped the plan after receiving legal advice stating that their legal challenge in court would likely fail. Many have also blamed the expansion of the scheme for Labour’s loss in the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election last month.

Final thought

As controversy over Ulez continues, it is becoming more likely that next May’s mayoral election will effectively become a referendum on the Ulez expansion with Susan Hall, the Tory mayoral candidate, vowing to axe the expansion “on day one” – but retain the zone in its current format – if she defeats Sadiq Khan.

To further demonstrate the divide over the Ulez expansion, a YouGov survey of 1,000 Londoners found that across the capital as a whole, the Labour mayor is viewed unfavourably by 52 per cent and favourably by 40 per cent — giving a net favourability rating of minus 12 overall. However, in the 19 outer boroughs, his net rating plunges to minus 24, where car use is far higher. Police also recently revealed nearly 300 vandalism crimes relating to Ulez cameras have been recorded.

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