Ulez expansion: Tory council sets aside £400,000 for High Court battle against Sadiq Khan’s plan

A row broke out on Thursday after a Tory borough prepared to spend up to £400,000 fighting the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone.

Harrow council’s leaders are set to issue High Court proceedings by February 24 against London mayor Sadiq Khan – and say they will fight the case alone if other Tory boroughs back out.

But critics warned the amount of money at stake – which the council admits will have to be drawn from reserves and could lead to a “worsening of Harrow’s financial situation” – was enough to run two libraries for a year.

Krupesh Hirani, the Labour member of the London Assembly for Brent and Harrow, said: “Harrow Tories should be ashamed of wasting almost half a million pounds of public money on legal costs to block Ulez.

“An estimated 118 people die prematurely in Harrow every year due to toxic air – Ulez is a proven policy that saves lives and cleans our toxic air.

“Instead of spending money on lawyers, they could be investing in libraries, youth services [or] protecting the future of our local Children’s Centres.”

Harrow is one of four boroughs – alongside Hillingdon, Bexley and Bromley – that issued a “pre action” warning letter to Transport for London last month, threatening legal action if Mr Khan’s decision to expand the Ulez to the Greater London boundary on August 29 is implemented.

The boroughs believe there are four grounds for a judicial review. Acording to documents obtained by BBC London, these are:

•That Mr Khan acted beyond his powers by expanding the Ulez by varying the existing scheme order rather than issuing a new charging order.

•That he relied upon “incorrect” assumptions about the number of non-compliant vehicles in the expanded zone.

•That private motorists living in the “buffer zone” on the edges of London are not entitled to apply to TfL’s £110m vehicle scrappage scheme; and

•There was a lack of detail in how the £160m cost of expanding the scheme, or the £200m in annual expected income, has been calculated.

TfL, in a letter responding to the boroughs, said: “None of the grounds advanced establish that the decisions were unlawful, or that this is arguable.

“Judicial review enables review by the courts of the legality, but not the merits, of decisions. This is a point that your proposed grounds incorrectly ignore.”

It has asked the boroughs to confirm by next Friday, February 10, “that no claim will be issued”. It warned them that Mr Khan and TfL would fight any claim – and reserve the right to recover their legal costs if a judge finds in their favour.

According to the GLA Conservatives, a total of five boroughs – including Havering, which is run by a residents/Labour coalition - want to block the expansion.

Three others – the Lib-Dem boroughs of Kingston, Richmond and Sutton – and two Labour-run authorities, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, have raised concerns or want a delay.

Sixteen of the 24 boroughs affected by the expansion have consented to TfL installing enforcement cameras and new Ulez signs on their roads. The other eight have been given until today, February 2, to agree – or TfL says it will use its reserve powers to begin installing the new infrastructure by the end of the month.

TfL commissioner Andy Lord told the TfL board on Wednesday that the organisation was “absolutely focused” on delivering the Ulez expansion by August 29.

He said drivers were being encouraged to check whether their vehicle met the exhaust emission rules. About 200,000 additional vehicles a day are expected to have to pay the levy.

Alex Williams, the TfL director overseeing the Ulez expansion, said: “We want to do this with the consent of the boroughs but the mayor does have the powers to intervene and install the signs and cameras if need be.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “The Mayor has been clear that with 4,000 Londoners a year dying from toxic air, his decision to expand the Ulez should be implemented with minimal delay.

“In doing so we are working closely and collaboratively with all boroughs concerned to install the infrastructure needed.”

A Harrow spokesman confirmed council leader Paul Osborn on Wednesday approved plans enabling a legal challenge, and added: “We are reviewing the next steps.”