Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to cover the entire capital has met with a mixed, and heated, response from the public.
Backlash has been has been seen from several quarters, including the haulage industry, taxi drivers and ordinary motorists, many of whom feel the £12.50-per-day charge to enter the zone will devastate pockets during this current period of inflation.
The scheme was launched, in Mayor Khan’s words, to help turn London into ‘one of the greenest cities on the planet’. A couple of events have been cited as providing the impetus for the idea: first, the passing of 9-year-old Ella Roberta Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose death certificate was the first issued in the UK to have ‘air pollution’ recorded as the cause of death; and second, the Mayor’s own diagnosis of adult-onset asthma.
As of 29th August, all of London is subject to the restrictions of the ULEZ, which means over 850,000 motorists (of cars, vans, and lorries) may face charges.
Backing the plans is a report issued by Imperial College London, which was tasked and funded by City Hall to find and publish ‘future health benefits of mayoral air-quality policies’. The report, authored by Professor Frank Kelly, delivers an analysis of the consequences of long term exposure to current levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) in inner and outer London. Among its claims, were that ‘in 2019, in Greater London, 61,800 to 70,200 life years lost (the equivalent of between 3,600 to 4,100 attributable deaths)‘, and that ‘London’s population would gain around 6.1 million life years if air pollution concentrations improved, per the Mayor’s air quality policies scenario, from 2013 to 2050…‘.
It is understood that City Hall made £45,000 available to the institution for the study. Further, since 2021, the year the 72-page report was published, Imperial College has received funding to the tune of £800,000 from City Hall. Later in 2021, however, another team within Imperial, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, published a separate report, which cast doubt on some of the claims made in Professor Kelly’s, and on the efficacy of the initial ULEZ.
Air pollution in London has been linked to a multitude of health issues including cardiovascular problems, strokes, cancer, and respiratory damage. In a study by Kings College London, it was posited that cleaner air would likewise reduce the burden on mental health facilities. The researchers, studying dementia patients in south London over a 9-year period, found that those living in areas considered to be the most polluted were 33% more likely to use such facilities.
However, it is not known whether there is a deeper connection between polluted areas, high levels of poverty, and disease, that may more appropriately explain the finding.
The ULEZ, which was introduced in April 2019, generated over £224m in 2022 (averaging £18.7m per month), with £73.3m of that from fines for non-payment of daily charges. Transport for London (TfL) has estimated the expanded ULEZ will generate over £300m in its first year.
Public feeling has been markedly strong. In many areas of London, ULEZ cameras have been destroyed: activists have now rendered over 600 cameras inoperable, whether by cutting the wires, spraying the lens, or pulling down the pole.
One of the most passionate supporters of the campaign for cleaner air in the capital, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, mother of Ella, has voiced concerns over the ‘teething problems’ encountered during the expansion, particularly with regard those who will be ‘adversely affected’.
Though Professor Kelly, in his report, stressed the need for urgency, it has been argued from other quarters that the plans so far have been, in some ways, too hastily executed. In a recent tribunal, a business owner had his fines, totalling £11,500, overturned; the adjudicator agreed with the appellant’s argument, that the ULEZ signage was insufficient to inform drivers that they face charges for entering the zone.
Challenges to the Mayor’s scheme have come not only from the public, however. In February, a coalition of five councils launched a Judicial Review of the expansion. Among the bases of the review were the TfL’s apparent failures to comply with statutory requirements, to establish a sufficient period of consultation, and to undertake a cost-benefit analysis. The challenge was dismissed by the High Court in July, a month before the expansion was due to come into force.
Motorists can check to see if they’re vehicle is compliant online.