ULEZ EXPANSION – A ‘matter of life and death’ or a ‘regressive and unfair’ tax. Two sides of the political fallout.
The expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) across all 33 London Boroughs, has been a key flagship priority for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in his bid to help clear London’s air and improve public health. Mayor Khan has expending significant political capital in seeking to push this through, calling it a ‘matter of life or death’ for Londoners. The political fallout for this contentious policy remains as rife as ever, with opponents calling it a ‘regressive and unfair’ tax and arguing that it is being pushed through despite overwhelming opposition from the majority of residents.
Whilst evidence seemingly confirms the success of the existing scheme, critics are implying that the expansion is ‘rushed’ and ‘inadequate for purpose’. They are further suggesting that the proposals are ill timed, and that the move will hit the poorest households the hardest during the cost of living crisis, in areas where public transport is poor or ineffective. It is been a key attack line from London Assembly Tories and Conservative MPs as they seek to derail the delivery of Mayor Khan’s long-stated ambition.
It is not however a simple fight between Labour and Conservatives – with a plethora of views and mixed reactions from politicians in Councils across West London.
Political viewpoints across West London
Since the expansion was announced in November 2022, it has been welcomed by green groups, clean air campaigners and some businesses. However, some Conservatives have opposed the expansion, claiming that it would “disproportionately impact residents who live in areas with poorer public transport services than inner London boroughs.”
Speaking recently in response to the Labour Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council’s call for a delay, London Mayor Sadiq Kahn denied that he is facing a public backlash to his expansion proposal and confirmed that he was expanding the ULEZ on behalf of the “silent majority” of Londoners who deserved cleaner air.
A growing number of Local Authorities are preparing to challenge Mayor Khan’s decision to expand the ULEZ later this year.
Richmond Council has become the latest authority to question extending the ULEZ, calling on the London Mayor to delay the implementation of the controversial scheme. Richmond’s Lib-Dems and, historically, some borough Conservatives have supported the expansion of the ULEZ to cover Greater London. However, both parties are now raising objections, arguing the scheme should only go ahead if the scrappage scheme is improved and more money is promised for public transport to give residents a viable alternative to their cars.
Kingston Councillors have branded the ULEZ expansion as inadequate for purpose, suggesting the plans need to change to work for boroughs on the edge of London where public transport is worse.
Whilst the Council’s Conservative Group were originally going to request the expansion be scrapped completely, Kingston’s Lib-Dem Councillors amended the motion to say the expansion should be delayed and accompanied by more measures, stating Kingston would need serious investment in public transport, walking and cycling for the scheme to work.
Newly Tory controlled Harrow Council is refusing to install the ANPR cameras required for the ULEZ expansion. In conjunction with Hillingdon, Bromley and Bexley Councils, Harrow’s Leadership are vehemently opposed to the plans, highlighting they are not satisfied with the justification of the expansion.
The Council, which has opposed to the expansion since its announcement last year, have stated the scheme will not translate successfully to Outer London. A more generous scrappage scheme or better public transport should accompany the proposals, but they argue that the scheme as it currently stands fails to understand the difference between outer and inner London, negatively impacting the poorest, local households most during the cost of living crisis.
In contrast to its neighbouring boroughs, Labour led Hounslow Council has welcomed the ULEZ expansion, stating residents can look forward to the many benefits of clean air by significantly lower levels of air pollution and improved health as a result.
As a borough, Hounslow is committed to introducing a series of supporting measures to help residents and businesses make the transition to a low-emission and low-carbon future. Unlike Harrow, the Council is supporting the work of TfL with the expansion of Cycleway 9 across the borough, to enable cycling to become a safer, easier option for local journeys to work, leisure or school.
Looking in depth into the local political opinions across West London, it is clear that all councils unanimously agree that something needs to be done to help reduce air pollution across the entirety of London. The timing of the implementation and support of the ULEZ expansion is what is seeming to be questioned at this stage, with many believing the scheme fails to appropriately consider the characteristics of Outer London and that the scheme is being pushed through without due consideration. It is stark to note the difference in implementation between Labour led councils and the refusal of Conservative councils – whilst some of the fears may be well founded, with deep held and genuine calls for delay, it does appear that the opportunity to sink such a flagship policy for the London Labour Mayor may be further entrenching the opposition of local Tory-led boroughs. We now await to what steps these councils will look to take next, with a date in court seeming increasingly likely.
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