Sadiq Khan: ‘Silent majority are with me on Ulez expansion’
Sadiq Khan told a global summit on Wednesday that the “silent majority” of Londoners support his plan to expand the Ultra low emission zone (Ulez).
Billionaire philanthropist and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg meanwhile signalled his own support for the proposal, telling an audience of international officials that his foundation supported Mr Khan’s “innovative work” on air pollution.
Mr Khan and Mr Bloomberg were speaking at the inaugural Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit, hosted on Wednesday at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
The event celebrated the recent achievements of five global cities in preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries - and was focused on making cities healthier places to live.
A small group of protesters outside held placards in opposition to the Ulez expansion. A number of them cited conspiracy theories about 15-minute cities and the World Economic Forum.
Inside the event, Mr Khan told the audience: “The Ulez requires vehicles driving on our streets to meet the toughest emissions standards enforced by any major city in the world.
“Its impact has been nothing short of transformative. Four million people now breathe cleaner air and toxic nitrogen dioxide levels have been cut by nearly half in central London. We’re now expanding Ulez city-wide, bringing cleaner air to every Londoner.
“But none of this has been easy. Shamefully, there’s been a coordinated effort by some to question the science, rationale and benefits of clean air.
“For those of you that have been outside, in fact, some of those protesters turned up outside this summit. A couple of the signs read ‘WEF - World Economic Forum stooges’. Another one reads ‘This push for healthy cities is a cover for global tyranny’.
“But no matter what they throw at us, it’s a fight worth having, and a fight we must win.”
He later said: “Within two years of implementing the Ulez, we reduced the toxic air by almost 50 per cent. There is no other policy in the world that’s had that massive reduction just in two years.
“[There was] a lot of opposition, [but] we did it. Good results. We then expanded it a bit further out [to cover the area within the North and South Circular roads] - we got a further 21 per cent reduction in bad air.
“I stood for re-election. I received more votes than any sitting mayor in [the] history of [UK] elections, so the silent majority are with me in relation to the Ulez.”
Mr Bloomberg, who in 2020 ran to be the Democratic candidate against Donald Trump, said of Mr Khan: “He’s been relentless in tackling air pollution, and our foundation has been glad to support his innovative work and help more cities replicate it.”
Of Mr Khan’s approach to policy-making, Mr Bloomberg said: “Sadiq has shown a lot of leadership, and the determination to do what’s right to protect public health, even when it's difficult and even when it’s not popular.
“The truth is, nothing important is easy and there’s no more important a job for a mayor than protecting public health and safety…
“In New York, many of the policies that generated the most opposition often turned out to be the most effective and the most popular.”
Mr Khan was asked after the event about the fact that the expansion of the Ulez to cover all of Greater London was not included in his 2021 election manifesto. The Mayor insisted that the public were still on his side.
He said: “At every stage of this process, there’s been some people who have got concerns, legitimate concerns, which we’ve sought to address. So the scrappage scheme we’ve announced for this expansion is £110 million. We should be supporting those who’ve got genuine concerns.
“There are others latching on to the legitimate concerns people have - conspiracy theorists, Covid deniers. We even saw at Ealing, two weeks ago, people coming with banners with Nazi swastikas on them. So they’re latching onto this opposition…
“Londoners are in favour of this expansion. The only impartial poll there’s been, from YouGov, showed that almost double the number of Londoners support expansion as those who are against it.”
City Hall Conservatives, who oppose Mr Khan’s plan, have pointed to the results of TfL’s own consultation on the proposal - saying that the leaked official results showed two thirds of respondents were opposed to it.