London's Mayor defends Ulez expansion as motorist backlash rages

As a sufferer of adult-onset asthma, Sadiq Khan has made the battle to tackle emissions a personal mission

A caravan parked near the home of London Mayor Sadiq Khan as protests mount over the introduction of the Ulez. PA
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Despite protests, sabotage and a voter revolt, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has insisted expansion of the capital’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) is “not anti-car” on the first day of the new charges coming into force.

“The policy to clean the air in London is not anti-car or anti-motorist,” he said. “The good news is actually nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already compliant.”

For Mr Khan, the battle to tackle these emissions has been worth it.

As a sufferer of adult-onset asthma, he has made the battle to tackle London’s air quality a personal mission. And while some political opponents think the mayor has gone too far with the Ulez, others say he is not doing enough to reduce traffic smog.

The £12.50 ($15.70) a day levy for most non-compliant vehicles now hits those living in outer boroughs of London, where people tend to be more car-dependent and have lower incomes.

“So there is no additional fee for you to pay, no restrictions on you, yet you benefit from the clean air,” Mr Khan said.

“But I accept there are a small number of cars that will be affected, they are non-compliant cars.

“They themselves, the drivers, breathe in pollutants, and that’s why I’ve announced that every single driver in London of a car or motorbike, every small business with a van, every charity with a minibus, will receive financial support [for scrapping non-compliant vehicles].”

The benefit to London’s outer-borough residents, which have the highest number of deaths linked to air pollution, has been used by Mr Khan as a major argument for its expansion.

Analysis released by the mayor’s office in June suggests that, based on analysis of income, education, crime levels and other factors, poorer Londoners and those from immigrant communities are more likely to live in areas with worse air quality.

Yet, even with the expanded Ulez, no Londoners will live in areas that meet the tougher new World Health Organisation’s annual average guidelines of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air for NO2 or five micrograms per cubic metre of air for PM2.5, which are fine particles emitted by cars, industry and other harmful sources.

“I don’t think the expansion of ULEZ will be sufficient in the longer term,” said Frank Kelly, a professor at Imperial College London, who has studied air pollution science for 30 years.

“Even though it’s had a big impact in central and inner London, the concentrations of pollutants still are too high. So other measures will need to be introduced in due course if we’re going to get down to those magic WHO guidelines.”

Classic car owners affected by the Ulez expansion – in pictures

Updated: August 29, 2023, 12:14 PM