ULEZ: 'landmark day' for London as controversy-ridden expansion finally rolled out

The controversial ULEZ scheme expansion finally rolls out today
The controversial ULEZ scheme expansion finally rolls out today

From today, drivers across all of London with vehicles considered to be high-polluting will have to shell out £12.50 a day if they use them, as Mayor Sadiq Khan's embattled ULEZ - or ultra-low emission zone - expansion is stretched out across the Greater London area.

The expansion has been highly contentious in some circles, in part because of the cost it would impose on people and businesses in outer London suburbs during a cost of living crisis. It has faced a raft of backlash, from a High Court challenge by Conservative-lead councils - with the judge ultimately ruling in Khan's favour - to so-called "blade runners", who target and vandalise cameras used for monitoring.

The London Mayor said this Tuesday will be "a landmark day for our city, as the ultra low emission zone expands to ensure every Londoner breathes cleaner air".

DON'T USE - for Amber's story 29/08/23 It's faced high court battles, camera vandals, and has been blamed for a by-election loss, but Sadiq Khan says the ULEZ expansion
DON'T USE - for Amber's story 29/08/23 It's faced high court battles, camera vandals, and has been blamed for a by-election loss, but Sadiq Khan says the ULEZ expansion "is the right thing to do" (Image: NationalWorld/Getty/Met Police)

“We’ve already seen huge progress since I announced the expansion," he continued. "On the eve of the roll-out, 9 in 10 cars seen driving in the zone on an average day are already compliant and won’t pay a penny. Financial help is available for every single Londoner and small business whose vehicle is not compliant."

Earlier this month, Khan expanded the associated scrappage scheme to all Londoners, meaning that anyone with a non-compliant car could get a grant of up to £2,000 to upgrade it. The Mayor's office has provided £160 million towards bankrolling this initiative.

“It was a very tough decision to expand the zone, but with toxic air leading to around 4,000 premature deaths each year and our children growing up with stunted lungs, it is the right thing to do," he added.

Official data released by London City Hill claimed the ULEZ was one of the most effective clean air measures in the world, already cutting harmful nitrogen dioxide levels along roads by 21% in Inner London and 46% in Central London since it was first introduced for those areas in April 2019.

The London-wide ULEZ was expected to lead to a nearly 10% nitrous dioxide emissions drop from cars in outer London suburbs, it said. Without the policy and others like it, City Hall said it would have taken 193 years from 2016 for London to meet legal pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide. "We're now on track to reach this milestone by 2025."

According to the UK government's own guidance, nitrogen dioxide in outdoor air is associated with adverse effects on health, "including reduced life expectancy". The World Health Organisation says an increasing body of evidence links the gas - created when burning fossil fuels including those used in cars - with an increase in respiratory symptoms, asthma cases, lung cancer cases, decreased lung function, adverse birth outcomes, and deaths.

The existing ULEZ has also contributed to the UK's net zero aspirations, the data said, leading to a reduction of around 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from vehicles across London.

City Hall also pointed out that the government had directed other cities to follow London's example, and implement their own ULEZ or clean air zone (CAZ) policies.

This comes after it was revealed earlier this week that Rishi Sunak had considered using a little-known rule that would have allowed government to veto the ULEZ expansion if it was "inconsistent with national policies".

However, the Conservatives reportedly backed down after seeking legal advice which concluded that the move would fail if challenged in court.

Meanwhile, Khan's Conservative rival for the next mayoral race, Susan Hall, told NationalWorld: "The ULEZ expansion will only have a negligible effect on air quality, but will be devastating for families, businesses and charities. As Mayor, I will stop the ULEZ expansion on day one and invest £50 million in tackling air pollution without taxing people."

Much of the controversy around ULEZ has stemmed from what it will cost drivers of non-compliant cars. In the outer-London town of Uxbridge, one resident told NationalWorld that the expansion would “destroy lives”.

“ULEZ has already destroyed things for me and my partner, as we’ve just had a baby and so can’t afford to buy a new car which is compliant. My parents have had to stop driving too, as their car doesn’t meet the rules and they can’t afford to get another one either. I mean, who can at the moment?”

Labour narrowly lost the recent Uxbridge by-election. Victorious Tory MP Steve Tuckwell attributed his success to Khan's "damaging and costly" ULEZ expansion plans. The London Mayor stood by the expansion, saying while he was “disappointed" that the seat - which had never been Labour in his lifetime - didn’t go to his party, he welcomed a 7% swing to Labour.

The controversy has also seen both Labour and the Tories re-examining their broader green policies in the build-up to the next UK general election, shaping the ULEZ debate up to remain a hot-button political issue for some time.