Environment

Sadiq Khan says there is an 'orchestrated campaign' against Ulez expansion

Khan said some Londoners have "genuine concerns" about the expansion, which he is trying to address.

Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at a podium for the 10th anniversary of the Olympics with a microphone in his face

The mayor said he is determined to push ahead with the Ulez expansion. (Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that opposition to the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) in August is an “orchestrated campaign”.

Speaking at an event hosted by climate charity Green Alliance on Monday (20 March), Khan said the Ulez has been “transformational”, describing it as “one of the most successful environmental initiatives anywhere in the world” but one which has been subject to “a sustained campaign of opposition”.

“This [opposition] includes a relatively small but well-organised group of climate deniers and vested interests, who are playing on the genuine concerns of Londoners because they sense an opportunity to put a dent in the drive towards greater climate action,” he continued.

The Ulez, which was introduced by Khan in 2019, will be expanded to all London boroughs on August 29, which the London Assembly says will bring “clean air to five million more people”. Anyone driving older, polluting vehicles inside the zone will face a fine of £12.50 for each day of use.

Khan acknowledged that many Londoners have “genuine concerns” about the expansion and pledged to “always listen to and address those concerns and provide further support where necessary”.

But he also said that some people with “their own agenda” have used those legitimate worries to push back against the Ulez.

The mayor further compared this “campaign of opposition” to similar tactics in recent years which he said are meant to “divide and mislead”, such as the “dismissal of science” and the “peddling of misinformation”.

“What we don’t want to do is amplify some of the messages that they have because, frankly speaking, they’re lies. We’re going to give people the right information. We can’t assume that the silent majority aren’t inadvertently being misled by the vocal minority,” Khan told the Big Issue, highlighting the work of climate organisations and community groups in helping to dispel climate-related misinformation. 

Polling by YouGov for the London Assembly found 51 per cent of Londoners are in support of the expansion and only 27 per cent are opposed to it. 

The Ulez is not the only traffic-reduction and clean air scheme to face opposition. Plans in Oxford to introduce traffic filters on six roads in order to reduce traffic similar to the congestion zone in London were subject to misinformation and conspiracy theories about reducing people’s freedom to move around, while fear-mongering about “15-minute cities”, an urban planning concept to reduce reliance on cars, has run rampant on social media.

At least four London boroughs and a further five county councils bordering the capital have opposed the expansion of the Ulez. Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, and Hillingdon councils previously sent an open letter to the mayor stating that those boroughs already “enjoy good air quality” and would get no benefit from the Ulez expansion.

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Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, and Buckinghamshire councils said they would not allow Ulez signage or cameras to be placed on their side of the border.

Khan did not specifically address the official opposition to Ulez by local councils, but has previously urged all of them to help him tackle clean air and prevent an estimated 4,000 Londoners dying prematurely from toxic air each year, according to a study commissioned by City Hall.

Vehicles including a red bus, white vans and black taxis wait at traffic lights in central London
The Ulez has contributed to a reduction of nearly 50 per cent in overall emissions in London. (Image: Curly42/Flickr)

Several newly installed Ulez cameras in south London were vandalised amid the backlash while online reaction to the Ulez expansion has been increasingly negative, with people claiming that the air in London “has never been cleaner” and calling the Ulez a “scam”. 

Air pollution can be linked to nearly 40,000 deaths per year in the UK, according to a 2018 study by King’s College London, and around 97 per cent of addresses in the UK are surrounded by unsafe levels of air pollution.

In London, one in three schools in London are situated near roads with illegal levels of pollution, a report by the London Councils said.

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The report also found air pollution in London alone could cost the NHS at least £1.4 billion each year in care for those suffering from long-term and short-term exposure to air pollution as well as the adverse effects it has on existing medical conditions.

Khan said his decision to expand the Ulez is “simple” and is based on “evidence” that it is “the right thing to do”. But, he told the Big Issue he is also keen to provide further support to Londoners to address any legitimate concerns about complying with the Ulez.

“That’s why I launched the biggest ever scrappage scheme in London to support low-income Londoners, small businesses, charities, and disabled Londoners to switch to greener vehicles,” he said. 

The £110m scrappage scheme will give Londoners up to £2,000 to scrap high-polluting cars or up to £1,000 for motorcycles, starting in August. Discounts and exemptions for disabled people and community transport vehicles will run until at least 2025 to allow people time to change their cars.

Figures from the London Assembly state the Ulez has contributed to a reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions by 23 per cent and PM2.5 particulate matter emissions of 19 per cent since 2019.

Khan said: “We can’t allow false narratives to take hold. London is a beacon of climate action. Other cities look to us for leadership.”

“If we were to fail to successfully deliver the Ulez extension, the ripple effect would be huge. Climate deniers and delayers would be emboldened, and our climate movement – and supporters – would be put on the back foot” he added.

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