One month after Ulez expanded, Uxbridge residents are still angry

Sadiq Khan has become a target for protests over his backing of the Ulez scheme  (PA Wire)
Sadiq Khan has become a target for protests over his backing of the Ulez scheme (PA Wire)

Legal challenges, smashed cameras and even a hunger strike were just some of the stark steps taken by opponents of London’s Ulez scheme after mayor Sadiq Khan announced it was being expanded.

First introduced in the capital in 2019 to tackle air pollution, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone was expanded to every borough on August 29 despite vocal backlash and a byelection won by the Tory candidate who campaigned against the widening of the scheme.

Boris Johnson’s former constituency Uxbridge and South Ruislip was a battleground for the issue, with Keir Starmer raising questions over the plan in the wake of the loss.

The expanded boundary of London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (Transport for London)
The expanded boundary of London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (Transport for London)

One month on and the anger is still there, if Uxbridge residentsThe Independent spoke to in the last week are any indication. Critics spoke of “suffering” and “struggle” as they felt forced to adapt to the divisive scheme.

“People who have a lot of money, like the politicians who brought Ulez to Uxbridge, don’t feel the same problems as regular working-class families,” carer Taufiq Ahmed, 32, said. “We’re suffering. We’re surviving, but we have no other option.”

“Ulez has made every journey more expensive for me and I have to use public transport more often now,” he continued. “But the public transport is so horrible, especially on the weekend. It’s a struggle.”

Drivers of the oldest, most polluting vehicles now have to pay a daily charge to drive in the zone (£12.50 for cars and more for older coaches and lorries), although most vehicles are exempt.

John Taylor, 81, said: “I’ve had to sell my car and buy a new one, which cost me a lot of money unfortunately.

“We’ve never had a bad air pollution problem, and I think Ulez is just a way of taking money away from us.”

According to live monitors, the air quality in Uxbridge is considered ‘poor’ and Mr Khan has repeatedly stressed that the zone is intended to tackle the health problems associated with toxic air.

John Taylor said the scheme forced him to sell his old car (The Independent)
John Taylor said the scheme forced him to sell his old car (The Independent)

But fellow resident Margret Leitch, 80, shared Mr Taylor’s frustrations: “Ulez has made a lot of angry people, particularly in Uxbridge. The borough opposed it, but now we’re stuck with it. I don’t like it.”

Opposition to the scheme has gone beyond votes and protests, with vandalism of cameras an ongoing problem.

Vigilantes have carried out attacks on Ulez cameras by cutting wires, painting over lenses, or removing the devices altogether. From 1 April to 31 August, the Metropolitan Police recorded 510 crimes relating to Ulez cameras. This includes 159 reports of cameras being stolen and 351 cameras being damaged.

The cameras are now being fitted with wires that offer extra protection, including through the use of black metal boxes.

A damaged ultra-low emission zone camera lying on the road in Harefield, Uxbridge (AJ Simpson/PA) (PA Media)
A damaged ultra-low emission zone camera lying on the road in Harefield, Uxbridge (AJ Simpson/PA) (PA Media)

The mayor has pledged £160 million towards a scrappage scheme, providing financial assistance to residents whose cars are not Ulez compliant, and not all residents the Independent spoke to in Uxbridge opposed the expansion.

Abubakar Ashraf, 26, said: “Bringing Ulez to Uxbridge was the right idea. More and more people are moving to the outskirts of London, and the pollution will get worse.

“Sadiq Khan has stuck to his guns and committed to making London greener, even though there were lots of backlash. He cares about the future of our city.”

A road sign near a roundabout shows leaving roads into the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London (The Associated Press)
A road sign near a roundabout shows leaving roads into the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London (The Associated Press)

Certainly, the mayor has shown no signs of backing down over the flagship scheme.

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “Expanding Ulez was a difficult decision, but a necessary one to tackle air pollution and the climate crisis. Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air pollution, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.

“Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already Ulez compliant and their drivers will not have to pay the charge.  And the Mayor has expanded his scrappage scheme so that every Londoner with a non-compliant car is now eligible to get support to switch their vehicle.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says the decision to expand the zone was difficult but necessary (PA Wire)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says the decision to expand the zone was difficult but necessary (PA Wire)

“The Mayor has also listened to businesses and increased the scrappage payment for vans from £5,000 to £7,000,” the spokesperson added. “Retrofit grants have increased from £5,000 to £6,000, typically enough to cover the whole cost of retrofitting.

“People are of course entitled to show their opposition to policies peacefully and lawfully. But causing or promoting criminal damage is never acceptable. All incidents of Ulez camera vandalism are reported to the police for investigation, arrests have been made and the Met and TfL are using new methods to catch those responsible.”