ULEZ expansion legal, High Court rules

The expansion of London's ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) to the capital's outer boroughs has been ruled lawful by the High Court.

Five Conservative-run councils had launched legal action back in February over the expansion.

Khan says 14 times he's 'listening' on ULEZ - politics latest

The scheme will come into force from 29 August and see the drivers of the most polluting vehicles charged £12.50 a day to use them.

The hope of those behind the plan is it will incentivise people to use cleaner transport alternatives and, as a result, help improve the city's air quality.

Transport for London has claimed only a small number of people will be impacted, with nine out of 10 vehicles compliant with ULEZ requirements.

But the councils challenged the rollout in the courts, saying the capital's Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, had exceeded his legal powers with such a large expansion of the scheme.

The five local authorities - Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley and Harrow in London, plus Surrey County Council - also claimed the consultation on the plan was flawed, and not enough information had been shared over the scrappage scheme, which provides payouts to people prepared to ditch their vehicles.

While other parts of the challenge were dismissed in April, the councils were granted a hearing in the High Court, and the two sides fought it out over two days of evidence.

A government spokesperson said: "It is for the mayor of London to justify his decision to expand the ULEZ, and to consult properly to ensure it is not just another tax on hardworking families.

"At a time when the government is doing everything it can to support people with the cost of living, it is for the mayor to decide whether it is fair for Londoners with non-compliant vehicles to be charged £12.50 every time they drive.

"The government has already provided TfL with £6bn in funding support since 2020, including almost £102m for projects specifically targeted at helping to tackle pollution."

The ruling comes a week after the debate around ULEZ dominated a local by-election and the fallout from the results.

The seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip - left vacant by the departure of Boris Johnson - seemed ripe for the taking for Labour in light of recent polling that gives the party a double digit lead over the Tories.

But the Conservative candidate managed a narrow victory - albeit seeing the majority for the party fall from over 7,000 to less than 500 - having turned its campaign into a referendum on ULEZ.

Since then, Labour have been in turmoil over the policy and whether to support it, with Sir Keir Starmer saying he had asked the mayor to "reflect" on the impact of the scheme.

'The right decision'

Following the ruling, Mr Khan told Sky News: "This landmark decision today is good news for London, because it means from the end of August we can make greater progress in cleaning up the air in outer London.

"The decision to expand ULEZ was a difficult one for me to take, it wasn't taken lightly, but it's essential we make more progress cleaning up the air in our city.

"Every year in our city, there's around 4,000 premature deaths directly linked with air pollution and children with stunted lungs forever."

Referencing the opposition to the scheme and the debate surrounding it, Mr Khan said: "I have been listening and I will carry on listening" but added that the High Court ruling was "quite clear".

He went on to say the 10 boroughs with the highest number of premature deaths are all in outer London.

Asked if ULEZ was the reason Labour failed to win the Uxbridge by-election last week, Mr Khan said: "The decision to expand ULEZ was a very difficult decision for me to make.

"It wasn't one I took lightly, but it was the right one."

Last month, the Greater London Authority commissioned a report by air quality and climate change consultants Aether into pollution levels in London.

It found that while progress had been made to reduce air pollution concentrations since 2016, the city's population was still forecast to remain exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in concentrations above the air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2030 "unless further significant action is taken to reduce concentrations".

It also found the most deprived communities of London still more commonly live in the most polluted areas and that the areas that had the lowest air pollution concentrations had a disproportionately white population.

"The exposure inequalities experienced between ethnic groups are much more pronounced in outer London than inner London," the consultants found.

But Steve Tuckwell, the Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip who campaigned against ULEZ expansion during the by-election, said constituents had sent a "clear message" to the mayor to "halt your ULEZ expansion".

"Londoners cannot go on being ignored by the Labour Party, who are making the choice to expand ULEZ, saddling families and businesses with a £4,500 a year charge - a tax on carers, parents, patients, sole traders and all hard-working Londoners," he said.

Read more:
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ULEZ: Starmer 'wobbling' on ULEZ, says mother of girl who died due to pollution

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His words were echoed by Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate who will take on Mr Khan at next year's mayoral election, who vowed to "stop the ULEZ expansion on day one" if she is elected next year.