Ulez expansion forces choice between heating and eating or getting around, mayor warned

London’s Low Emission Zone is due to expand across the city from August, hitting drivers with an extra £12.50-per-day living cost  (Yui Mok/PA Wire)
London’s Low Emission Zone is due to expand across the city from August, hitting drivers with an extra £12.50-per-day living cost (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Londoners may have to go hungry or switch off the heating to afford the £12.50-a-day ultra-low emission zone levy, Sadiq Khan has been warned.

Paul Osborn, the Tory leader of Harrow council, claimed the Ulez expansion to the Greater London boundary would have a “devastating” impact on low-income Londoners unable to upgrade their car.

He said they would be “forced to choose between paying your Ulez tax or heating and eating” due to the cost-of-living crisis – a prospect that left them “filled with anxiety”.

It came as the Tory leader of Bromley council described estimates that the borough suffered the highest number of premature deaths in London from toxic air as “complete nonsense”.

He said the figures, from research by Imperial College for the mayor and Transport for London, failed to account for the borough’s older population and large number of elderly care homes.

Mr Khan faced a renewed backlash from Conservative boroughs after warning them that any attempt to overturn his decision to expand the Ulez across all 33 boroughs was “misconceived” and would be defeated at the High Court.

Harrow, Bromley, Bexley and Hillingdon have until February 24 to decide whether to lodge an application for a judicial review.

Mr Osborn, in a letter to the mayor, noted that Martin Lewis, the money-saving expert, had questioned the timing of the Ulez expansion at a City Hall cost-of-living summit last week.

Mr Osborn wrote: “The cost of heating and eating has risen considerably in the last year, which has had a dramatic effect on people’s lives and on their families.

“It is these lives and these families and their children who will be devastatingly affected by having to potentially pay £87.50 per week just to use their cars to get to school, work, the doctors or just to get food.

“By hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, as well as struggling businesses, you are making the choices they face even harder.”

Estimates produced by Imperial College suggest there were between 172 and 204 premature deaths in Bromley in 2019 attributable to air pollution.

The Imperial report said that Havering and Bromley had the lowest pollution levels but were “high on the mortality burden list… due to higher proportions of the population in older age groups and lower proportions in younger age groups”.

Mr Khan says the Ulez must be expanded on August 29 to tackle up to 4,100 premature deaths in the capital each year.

But Bromley leader Colin Smith said: “I am frankly beginning to feel slightly embarrassed for the mayor and his desperately repeated claims that Bromley residents are suffering from a higher mortality of premature deaths than any other borough in the capital.

“Factually, Bromley is a very healthy borough with a low overall mortality rate. The fraction of mortality attributable to air pollution in Bromley is actually the third lowest in London.”

He said any lung damage in older Bromley residents may have been caused by “smogs and smoke-filled pubs and clubs of yesteryear”. He said many elderly people were drawn to the borough to spend their final years in a care home.

“In summary, Bromley enjoys the second cleanest air in London, very marginally behind Havering,” he said. “We also have cleaner air than every single borough already ensnared within the mayor’s existing Ulez scheme and even his own scientific projections confirm that extending the Ulez further out would only add the most marginal of benefits.”

A mayoral source said: “It’s truly shocking that the leader of Bromley council seems relaxed about the impact of air pollution on the borough’s older population.

“Every year 4,000 Londoners are estimated to die early due to toxic air, and thousands more develop life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma. The fact that older people are more vulnerable to these diseases make action on air quality more vital, not less.

“And for a Tory council leader to lecture anyone on the cost-of-living crisis, given the chaos his party has overseen with soaring mortgage payments and energy bills – that takes real chutzpah.”