London Ulez: Sadiq Khan's low-emission zone expansion is lawful, court decides

Extension will mean thousands of drivers in outer London will have to pay £12.50 a day to use their vehicles

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London mayor Sadiq Khan's ultra low emission zone (Ulez) expansion is lawful, Britain's High Court has ruled.

A judge rejected five Conservative-led councils’ challenge against the expansion, due to take place on August 29.

The local authorities argued the Labour mayor had gone beyond his powers by extending the scheme to the capital’s outer boroughs.

Under the scheme, motorists of high-polluting cars have to pay £12.50 per day to drive within the zone.

The outer London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon along with Surrey County Council launched legal action in February over the proposals to extend Ulez beyond the North and South Circular roads.

At a hearing this month, the local authorities’ lawyers said Mr Khan lacked the legal power to order the expansion of the low-emission zone by varying existing regulations. They argued there was an “unfair and unlawful” approach to collecting views on the plans.

The mayor’s legal team rejected the bid to quash his plan, arguing the move was “entirely lawful” and that “ample information” was provided for a “fair consultation”.

In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Swift dismissed the councils’ case.

Mr Khan responded by welcoming the “good news”.

In a summary of his findings, Mr Justice Swift said the mayor was acting within his remit.

“I am satisfied that the mayor’s decision to expand the Ulez area by amendment of the present road-charging scheme, rather than by making an entirely new scheme, was within his powers,” he said.

Having “carefully considered” the consultation process, the judge said he was satisfied enough information had been given to people who wished to respond to provide “informed responses”.

The councils had also challenged plans for a £110 million ($141 million) scheme to provide grants supporting the scrapping of non Ulez-compliant vehicles, arguing they were unlawful because a “buffer zone” for “non-Londoners” affected by the extended charging zone was not considered.

Mr Justice Swift said the consultation on the scrappage scheme was “not in depth” but was legal.

Mr Khan said the decision to expand Ulez was “very difficult and not something I took lightly”.

The extension will bring cleaner air to five million more people living in the capital, he said.

“The unambiguous decision today in the High Court allows us to press on with the difficult but vital task of cleaning up London’s air and tacking the climate crisis,” he said in a statement released on Twitter.

Conservative London Assembly member Susan Hall, who is challenging Mr Khan in the mayoral election next year, repeated her pledge to scrap the extension of the scheme if elected.

"While it is a shame the High Court did not find the Ulez expansion to be unlawful, there is no denying that Sadiq Khan's plans will have a devastating impact on families and businesses across the city," she tweeted. "If I am elected mayor, I will stop the Ulez expansion on day one."

Sian Berry, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, said she was "really pleased" with the High Court decision.

She said while drivers in the capital needed more support from the mayor and the government to adjust to the changes, the expansion could not wait.

Ms Berry said "Londoners need this now" because "clean air will save lives".

Caroline Lucas, a Green MP and former party leader, said widening the borders of Ulez was an essential step because "London’s toxic smog is threatening lives".

Labour leader Keir Starmer blamed Ulez for the party’s defeat in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election last week, in which the Tories held on to Boris Johnson’s former seat.

Lord Moylan, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords and a former deputy chairman of Transport for London, said Mr Khan was ignoring the wishes of high-level figures in the Labour Party to plough ahead with the expansion.

Lord Moylan told GB News: “Top Labour politicians are basically hinting that he should cancel this. But what has he done? He has written to the government for more money, which is all he has ever done.”

If the mayor ignores critics, including those in his own party, and moves ahead with his plan, the Ulez borders will reach Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey at the end of next month.

Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, called the High Court ruling "incredibly disappointing".

Paul Osborn, leader of Harrow Council, said he would press the government for power to stop the Ulez expansion in his area.

Colin Smith, leader of Bromley Council, said the High Court ruling was a “bitter disappointment” for motorists, traders who would have to “consider ceasing business and laying off staff” and people who would not be able “to support vital care networks” in outer London.

'Rishi Sunak must help Londoners with Ulez costs'

Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr said given that the globe was in the midst of a climate crisis “now is not the time for political point-scoring”.

He claimed Ulez had been a “huge success” in its four years to date and that it could be credited for “almost halving harmful air pollution in central London”.

Mr Parr accused the government of slacking off on climate action and called on Rishi Sunak to “step up” to help Londoners faced with Ulez costs.

"Those who feel that the Ulez expansion is unfair should point the finger squarely at the government,” he said. “Ministers rightly demand that legal limits for air pollution are met but have failed to adequately fund the car scrappage scheme.

“A government committed to solving the problems of air pollution in the capital should work with the mayor to provide proper financial support for working people wanting to get rid of older, more polluting vehicles.

“The Prime Minister should step up to ensure that working families are supported and costs fall on those with the broadest shoulders.”

Updated: July 28, 2023, 11:42 AM