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Ulez Expansion: Signage Controversy

ulez

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 Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez). 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.

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.

Yet, last month, 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.”

Signage

Both councils confirmed they would not put up signage without any mitigation to minimise the impact of the expansion on residents of Kent and Surrey. A spokesperson for Surrey County Council said the extended scrappage scheme would have “no impact on those outside of London”. They said it meant Surrey residents would have to pay the Ulez charge and the costs to scrap their own car as the scrappage scheme only applies to people living inside London. They urged Mr Khan and TfL to do “what is right” and extend the scheme outside of London, provide exemption for key workers and better bus routes between the counties.

A spokesperson for Kent County Council said the aim of improving air quality must go “hand-in-hand with appropriate mitigations, including better availability of public transport.” They added plans for tolls at the Blackwall Tunnel were “another indication [Mr Khan] has no consideration for the impact it could have on Kent residents and businesses to be further financially penalised”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor said refusal to erect signage meant councils may be responsible for drivers not being “fully aware” of the boundaries of the zone. They added county highways authorities have “statutory obligations” and the councils have refused the TfL offer to fund the cost of the signs. They said they believed signage was “of benefit” to residents of the home counties and urged the councils to work with them “constructively”.

Final thought

The mayor has previously clashed with local authorities over the expansion. The five councils who took legal action – Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey County Council – now have to decide whether to seek to appeal the judgement.

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.

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