Ulez signs ‘could be unlawful’ after tribunal ruling

Ulez and Lez sign
Ulez will extend across London on Tuesday - Maureen McLean / Alamy Live News

London’s controversial ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) has faced a fresh setback after a ruling found that signs for its sister scheme were unlawful.

On the eve of the expansion of the zone, aimed at reducing air pollution, it emerged that a tribunal had overturned fines against a business owner after he complained that signs about the existing low emission zone did not make charges clear.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has said Tuesday will be a “landmark day” as Ulez is extended across the capital.

Mr Khan insists the expansion will improve air quality and prevent 4,000 premature deaths from pollution, despite criticism that his claims are based on “selective” scientific data.

The zone will be expanded from eight to all 32 London boroughs from midnight, with the drivers of vehicles that fail to meet certain emissions standards facing a £12.50 daily charge. Those who fail to pay and are caught face a £180 penalty, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

Noel Willcox, from Hertfordshire, who runs a scaffolding company, was hit with £11,500 in fines under the low emission zone for driving a truck to and from a depot in North West London.

Motorists driving highly polluting vans or HGVs must pay up to £300 a day for the Lez or face fines.

However, Mr Willcox refused to pay the fines and took his appeal to a tribunal, arguing that the signs did not comply with laws stating that motorists must be warned if they will be charged.

Graeme Wallington, the adjudicator, ruled that he had argued correctly that the signs did not provide enough detail and therefore he did not need to pay the charge.

“I accept the appellant’s submissions that if the signs are not authorised and do not provide adequate information of the charging scheme then no charge or penalty is payable,” the ruling said.

Mr Wallington said that despite adjourning the appeal to allow Transport for London (TfL) to submit arguments, it produced “no evidence as to either the low emission zone signs being compliant” with regulations or on “the adequacy of the information contained on the signs”.

“In these circumstances, I cannot be satisfied that the low emission zone signs are authorised and lawful,” he added. “TfL have therefore failed to establish that the contraventions occurred and that the PCNs were lawfully issued. I therefore allow the appeal and direct that the PCNs be cancelled.”

Mr Willcox said other motorists should appeal against their fines, adding that he believed Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, could intervene. He has approached Howard Cox, the founder of FairFuelUK and a London mayoral candidate for Reform UK, with his ruling in an effort to encourage more peoples to appeal.

“TfL have been unequivocally told in this London Transport tribunal ruling that their existing low emission zone signage is unlawful, which must mean the latest new Ulez signs cannot be legal either,” said Mr Cox.

“As you’d expect, TfL are trying to convince us all that they are in the right and the signs are legal. This administratively inept team under a dishonest manipulative mayor believes they are above the law and are putting two fingers up to this transport tribunal’s decision. It’s clear that all penalty charge fines, and previous fees should now be up for refund.”

Lawyers said the ruling did not set a precedent for other courts but could be used as evidence in other appeals.

Nick Freeman, the lawyer known as Mr Loophole for getting high profile celebrities out of traffic offences, said he believed the signs do not comply with regulations.

“While Noel’s victory is not binding on other courts, I believe the case can be used by other drivers hit with penalties and fines to appeal,” he said. “Because this was a hearing at the first level, it is not legally binding, but it is what’s known as ‘persuasive’, which means it can be used in other cases.

“I believe the tribunal made the right ruling and TfL have got it wrong. In my view there is insufficient information on the signs. They don’t comply with the regulations.”

Details of the ruling emerged as all but one of the councils surrounding London refused to support the Ulez scheme.

Six out of seven councils neighbouring the capital have said they will not sign an agreement with TfL to install signs. Many roads into London will therefore lack notice, leaving drivers with a potential route to appealing against fines.

TfL said the low emission zone signs were deemed lawful by the Department of Transport in 2008. “We are investigating why the correct evidence was not submitted,” it added.