This morning it was announced that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, won a high court battle to expand the Ulez (ultra-low emissions zone) boundary to include Greater London. Mr Justice Swift rejected a bid from five Tory councils to have the proposed expansion ruled illegal.
The Ulez expansion
Under the proposed 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. Since Sadiq Khan has been mayor, the zone has grown from central London to the north and south circular roads. 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’s plans, set to become enforceable in August, 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.
Ulez expansion gets the green light
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”.
He continued “I’m further satisfied that when taking the decision on the grant to meet the cost of the vehicle scrappage scheme, the Mayor understood the likely provision that would be made. While the consultation conducted was not in-depth, it was lawful.”
The five councils – Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey County Council – now have to decide whether to seek to appeal the judgement. Defeat for the mayor could have forced him to delay the date of the expansion by a matter of weeks or possibly months, making it more likely that next May’s mayoral elections effectively become a referendum on the Ulez.
Susan Hall, the Tory mayoral candidate, has vowed to axe the expansion “on day one” – but retain the zone in its current format – if she defeats Sadiq Khan.
Sadiq Khan’s response
Sadiq Khan has celebrated his win. In a statement on twitter, the mayor described the ruling as “good news” and noted how this ruling means that he can now “proceed with cleaning up the air in outer London on 29 August”.
Crucially, Sadiq Khan highlighted that the decision to expand the Ulez boundary was not easy. He stated that it was not something he took lightly but pointed to achievements so far and the necessity of the boundary in tackling the climate crisis.
As vehicles liable for the £12.50 charge are those typically registered before 2004 (petrol) and 2015 (diesel), TfL believes that only a minority will be liable for the cost, therefore, most communities within the five councils will remain unaffected.
The legal action against Khan’s policy, taken by a handful of Tory councils, appeared not have much of a legal standing – criticism for Khan mirrors typical anti-environmental and exaggerated mantras used to prevent changes that will improve the environment. They ignore the impacts of air pollution and attempt to brand the policy to have the Ulez expansion as ‘undemocratic’.
Along with the need for clean air, the expansion of the boundary is necessary to tackling the climate crisis. Under Sadiq Khan’s pledge to make London a zero-carbon city by 2030, the ultra-low emissions zone acts as an incentive to encourage those who have not yet switched their vehicles, to do so.
Sadiq Khan was elected on the basis that he would introduce a range of green environmental provisions for the city, if the Conservatives oppose these measures, they need to win an election to stop them.