The outer London streets split by Sadiq Khan's new Ulez car pollution tax

Many are furious about the scheme, though others say they're worried about children's health

Builder Danny Bennett says the Ulez charge will cost his business £400 a week. The National
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As he packs up his van go to another job, builder Danny Bennett has some choice words about London mayor Sadiq Khan and his new Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion.

“It’s about time he went and at the next election he’ll be gone,” he told The National. “It’s all right for guys like him, living in his house, with his money. He’s 100 per cent out of touch.”

Mr Bennett, 37, was speaking on a street in Orpington, south-east London, only a few hours after the controversial scheme came into force.

But while he rails against the new tax, a mere 100 metres up the road Matt Shelley, who drives a Tesla electric car, voices his support for Ulez.

“I think it’s a good idea, for the future of our children. I’ve got a one-year-old child so I’m worried about air pollution,” said Mr Shelley, 36, a financial adviser.

Cutting vehicle emissions has become a personal crusade for the Mayor, who describes the onset of adult asthma, that he attributes to pollution in the city, in a recent book entitled Breathe.

He has created the world's largest pollution-charging area by extending an existing scheme for the centre of the city across all 32 boroughs of the UK capital.

People who drive in the zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 ($15.70) daily fee or risk a £180 ($230) fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

The scheme has aroused anger among Londoners affected, with vigilantes calling themselves Blade Runners taking to cutting down poles carrying enforcement cameras or painting over their lenses.

Ulez has also become a political stick with which to beat Mr Khan and it has been credited with costing his Labour party victory in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, a constituency which has been swallowed up by the new charging zone.

There is particular resentment among Londoners who rely on their vehicles for their livelihoods and who often come into the city from outside – where it’s cheaper to live – to work.

Mr Bennett estimates the charge will hit his business to the tune of £400 a week.

“If you’re doing a job for six months, that’s going to be a lot of money,” he said.

“We’re only a small outfit and we try to keep costs down for the customer by not having loads of vans or an office, to keep the overheads down.

“But I think this is going to affect the amount of work we get, 100 per cent. Customers are all asking me if costs are going to go up.”

Ulez offers a £160 million scrappage scheme whereby non-compliant vans can be traded in for £7,000 to buy a compliant vehicle for businesses under a certain size, such as Mr Bennett’s.

But that “doesn’t scratch the surface”, he says, and believes he will have to find another £8,000 out of his own pocket.

He is also unimpressed with the argument that Ulez will save lives.

“There’s more young kids that die every day from being stabbed in London than emissions and the amount of money he [Mr Khan] spent putting up cameras that have been vandalised would have been better put into youth, to get them off the street so they’re not stabbing each other,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Shelley is loading up his Tesla electric car as it sits on the front drive.

He bought an electric car because he says it’s cheaper to run and has more space, as well as for environmental reasons.

“About 90 per cent of people are not affected by the charge. It’s been trumped up into a huge election issue,” he said.

“But people don’t realise how bad the air quality is. If you walk a couple of metres away from the kerb the air quality is significantly better.

“With the government making cars all electric ... it’s going to happen, though I think they could have brought in Ulez more gradually.”

Further into London, in Bromley, among the many places where cameras have been attacked, there is considerably less sympathy among those to whom The National spoke.

James Boyle, 40, who runs a fruit and vegetable stall on the main shopping street, describes Ulez as an “absolute joke”.

“It’s going to make the rich richer and the poor poorer,” he said. “I used to have two vans but I’ve had to get rid of one because it wasn’t compliant.”

In common with Mr Bennett the builder, he said “we try to be as cheap as possible because everyone is struggling”.

“But it means we’ll have to put our prices up, which we don’t want to do because the cheaper we are, the busier we are. It’s going to be a nightmare. We’ll just have to grin and bear it and keep going.

“Everyone I know thinks Khan is the worst mayor of London we’ve ever had.”

Rachel Davies, 37, who works in recruitment, said she has had to buy a more expensive car to comply with the new regulations.

“I think it’s just a tax on the poor, quite honestly. I want to see it scrapped and I’m glad that people are vandalising the cameras,” she said.

Mr Khan has faced considerable online vitriol, including conspiracy theories he plans to make Muslims and other religious minorities exempt from the charge – demonstrations have even been staged outside his home.

He points out figures from Transport for London that nine out of 10 cars driving in outer London on an average day are already Ulez-compliant.

"The policy to clean the air in London is not anti-car or anti-motorist,” the mayor said.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 5:07 PM