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OPINION

Whose ULEZ is it anyway? Political chicanery as clean air zone set to expand to outer London

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The man on the Clapham omnibus (or rather, the man in the Uxbridge & South London Tesla) fell for some outrageous buck-passing last week

Opposition to the forthcoming expansion of the Ultra-low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of Greater London has been singled out as the single biggest reason the Conservatives held onto Boris Johnson’s former Uxbridge & South Ruislip in last Thursday’s by-election, with both Labour and the Tories now reportedly rethinking their stance on environmental issues in the wake of the result.

More than anything else though, the outcome of the by-election provides a stark example of how facts – as well as parties’ own stated positions – can be twisted or even ignored in the pursuit of votes, as well as underlining just how little understanding there is of the issue in a part of the capital where owners of the most polluting vehicles will, in a month’s time, be subject to a £12.50 daily charge for driving there.

Conservative Party literature ahead of the by-election suggested that once expansion happens on 29 August, all drivers in the constituency (and by extension, Greater London) will be subject to the charge, and not just the small percentage that do not comply with the relevant emissions standards, with one Labour campaigner claiming that “We had people with a Tesla in the driveway saying it was outrageous that they would have to pay,” according to the Guardian.

It didn't help that the Labour candidate in the by-election responded by suggesting that the expansion needed to be reconsidered, and the narrow Conservative win has resulted in the government now apparently seeing environmental concerns as a fair target when it comes to securing votes.

In the wake of what many viewed as a surprise defeat, Labour, meanwhile, is reportedly considering distancing itself somewhat on green matters as the Tories seek to make a so-called ‘wedge’ issue out of them, as happened in the north west London constituency, and its leader, Sir Keir Starmer has put pressure on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to rethink the expansion.

Besides the apparent confusion over topics that are legislated upon at Westminster, with those done at local level – ULEZ is firmly among the latter – the by-election campaign and subsequent fallout also clearly illustrate something we have increasingly seen in British politics in recent years, namely blaming the other side for your own policy.

So who introduced ULEZ … ?

Khan has been portrayed by the Tories and the right-wing media as the architect of the initiative – but the fact is, the initial ULEZ, covering the same central London area as the congestion charge zone, was announced in 2015 by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, although it only came into effect in 2019, three years after the Labour politician took over as Mayor of London.

In a bizarre twist, it has even emerged in recent days that emergency government support provided to Transport for London at the height of the coronavirus pandemic was dependent, according to a letter from then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, on Khan expanding the ULEZ zone.

Given that Shapps congratulated Tory candidate Stephen Tuckwell on his by-election win last week by hailing it on Twitter as a vote to “Stop Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion,” you can perhaps understand people’s confusion.

It’s worth noting though that with a turnout of only 47 per cent, growth in Labour’s share of the vote and a 6.7 per cent swing away from the Tories, the by-election result is perhaps not the resounding victory that has been claimed – and that’s before you even consider that Piers Corbyn’s Let London Live party, which has opposition to ULEZ as its central policy, managed to get just 101 votes.

Next month’s expansion of the area covered by ULEZ won’t be the first time the zone has been widened; in October 2021, it was widened to include the entire area within the North and South Circular Roads, meaning that parts of some Outer London boroughs – Barnet, Brent and Waltham Forest, for example – are already within the zone.

Closer to central London, where I live, in the south eastern part of the London Borough of Ealing, we’re within the zone, but the boundary is less than a quarter of a mile away.

Personally, I don’t drive, but I know a good few people who do, and one thing I would say is that those who had reservations about the scheme before it came into force do not seem to have had much of an issue since that happened – l’m guessing because they erroneously thought that they, or family or friends, would have to pay the charge, which did not turn out to be the case.

Hillingdon has worst pollution among London’s boroughs

An independent report published in May this year found that Hillingdon had the worst pollution of all 32 of the capital’s boroughs, eclipsed only by the City of London, the historic financial centre, which is now pursuing an ambitious programme to reshape its streets for people, not motor vehicles.

Hillingdon, of course, is home to London Heathrow Airport, which partly explains its place in the league table compiled by the Eco Experts from a number of sources including the Greater London Authority, with their report also highlighting that poorer air quality in Outer London boroughs (which will, from next month, be included within the Ulez zone) is explained by cars being more important as a primary mode of transport in outlying parts of the capital compared to more central areas.

Other cities across England and beyond are considering introducing similar charges, or have already unveiled plans to do so, including Greater Manchester and Edinburgh, and similar to what we saw in Uxbridge & South Ruislip, the likelihood is that come the general election, such initiatives will be an important issue in local campaigning, one that will be raised on the doorstep by potential voters.

By then, of course, the expansion of the ULEZ within London will have taken place, and here’s my prediction – while it may be the focus of press attention, and calls to scrap it, ahead of 29 August, after that date many car and van owners living in areas now subject to the charge will be pleasantly surprised to discover that their vehicles do in fact comply with the regulations, and they won’t have to pay a penny, despite what the scaremongers may have told them.

I reckon it’s likely that come the next general election, whenever that is, the reality of the situation will have sunk among both voters and politicians, and that overturning ULEZ expansion will not be perceived as the vote-winner that trying to prevent it happening currently is.

Next target – road pricing?

The opponents to ULEZ, of course, many of whom already have a portfolio of causes they are fighting against such as LTNs, or vaccinations against COVID, will simply move onto some other issue perceived as interfering with people’s ‘freedoms’, which of course in many cases relates to motor vehicles, including besides ULEZ attempts to curb rat-running motorists through implementing LTNs, or hold speeding drivers to account through the use of speed cameras.

Never mind that driving a motor vehicle is not a fundamental ‘right’ as some would have you believe, but something that is only allowed under licence, nor the fact as we’ve previously highlighted numerous times here on road.cc that there are simply too many motor vehicles needed on Great Britain’s roads and that if motorists won’t reduce their use voluntarily, tougher measures to encourage them to do so are needed.

My guess? Smart road charging, also known as pay-as-you-drive, which would replace the current fuel duty system and according to a report last year by the Social Market Foundation is widely accepted in transport circles as being inevitable.

Endorsing that report, former Transport Secretary Lord Young of Cookham said:

Successive administrations have looked at the case for road pricing and found it perfectly reasonable and sensible – then done nothing because they believe the public will not accept the change.

This report challenges that assumption. It shows that, as so often, the public are more sensible and mature than political debate gives them credit for. When voters think about the challenges ahead for transport and tax, they accept that road pricing is a prudent and necessary step to take. 

The public are open to innovation because they know that the world has changed and will continue to change, so policy must change too. The welcome shift towards electric vehicles raises a clear question about the future of fuel duty levied on petrol and diesel. The unpopularity of that duty has grown steadily too. As this report shows, a well-designed system of road-pricing would be fairer and more popular than the status quo.

It could be that his lordship overestimates the ability of the man on the Clapham omnibus or to be more accurate, the man in the Uxbridge & South Ruislip Tesla, to put aside self-interest and weigh up the merits of the issue to reach a balanced view, that’s assuming the vehicle owner (and voter) has the full facts at hand and hasn’t been misled by inaccurate statements in campaigning literature.

By then, at least, the Tesla owner’s misplaced worries about being made to pay the ULEZ charge will be but a distant recollection – assuming he remembers his concerns at all.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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45 comments

Avatar
Steve K | 7 months ago
4 likes

High Court decision on ULEZ expected this morning.

Also

STOP FEEDING THE TROLL!

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David9694 replied to Steve K | 7 months ago
4 likes

ULEZ expansion lawful. Breaking. 

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hawkinspeter replied to David9694 | 7 months ago
8 likes
David9694 wrote:

ULEZ expansion lawful. Breaking. 

It astonishes me that people want to fight (in court) against cleaning up the air. I can only think that the people responsible just drive through the relevant areas and don't have to put up with the health problems caused by their own polluting.

Can everyone PLEASE stop voting for toxic Tory politicians that seem to actually want toxic air or at least don't care about the plebs having to breathe it in.

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Adam Sutton replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
3 likes

Not saying I am against it but the fact is, I reckon thanks to the ULEZ expansion, with us being on the border of London in Kent come the next GE we will be stuck with our cretinous Tory MP, as he has jumped on the anti-ULEZ bandwagon to bolster his support. And yes, yes, I know ULEZ was a Tory policy started by Bojo, but do we really think that will matter?

*edit to add a point (hope that is OK)

Let's hope that when that GE does come ULEZ doesn't help the tories win another term.

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Steve K replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
3 likes
Adam Sutton wrote:

Not saying I am against it but the fact is, I reckon thanks to the ULEZ expansion, with us being on the border of London in Kent come the next GE we will be stuck with our cretinous Tory MP, as he has jumped on the anti-ULEZ bandwagon to bolster his support. And yes, yes, I know ULEZ was a Tory policy started by Bojo, but do we really think that will matter?

*edit to add a point (hope that is OK)

Let's hope that when that GE does come ULEZ doesn't help the tories win another term.

As long as there's no delay to implementation, I don't think it will be an issue.  ULEZ will be old news by then, and people will realise that most cars are compliant and that the downsides have been massively exaggerared.

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Adam Sutton replied to Steve K | 7 months ago
2 likes

Yeah, actually makes you want the next GE to be a bit down the road (no pun intended). Our MP has basically just spent months laser focussed on ULEZ though and people are falling for it.

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hawkinspeter replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
5 likes
Adam Sutton wrote:

Not saying I am against it but the fact is, I reckon thanks to the ULEZ expansion, with us being on the border of London in Kent come the next GE we will be stuck with our cretinous Tory MP, as he has jumped on the anti-ULEZ bandwagon to bolster his support. And yes, yes, I know ULEZ was a Tory policy started by Bojo, but do we really think that will matter?

*edit to add a point (hope that is OK)

Let's hope that when that GE does come ULEZ doesn't help the tories win another term.

It's disgraceful that clean air should be used as a partisan issue. We need cross-party agreements on becoming greener or at the very least, destroying our world a little bit slower.

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Adam Sutton replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
7 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

It's disgraceful that clean air should be used as a partisan issue. We need cross-party agreements on becoming greener or at the very least, destroying our world a little bit slower.

Unfortunately the only thing that has become clear is that all this govt cares about is staying in power, and syphoning off tax payers money to their cronies.

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hawkinspeter replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
4 likes
Adam Sutton wrote:

Unfortunately the only thing that has become clear is that all this govt cares about is staying in power, and syphoning off tax payers money to their cronies.

I couldn't agree more. It astonishes me that some people don't see that and continue to vote for them despite it being against their best interests.

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Cugel replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
6 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:
Adam Sutton wrote:

Unfortunately the only thing that has become clear is that all this govt cares about is staying in power, and syphoning off tax payers money to their cronies.

I couldn't agree more. It astonishes me that some people don't see that and continue to vote for them despite it being against their best interests.

It's an old and well-known phenomenon; once called "the working class Tory vote", defined exactly as you describe - voting entirely against your own interests and those of others like you by voting for people intent on keeping you down in every way, exploiting you sometimes to death yet somehow persuading you that voting for anyone else would be " a betrayal of British values and the natural order of things".

Their basic trick is to employ long-honed propagana techniques, delivered by long-suborned mass media to persuade dafties that their interests have something to do with keeping others even lower than themselves in the pecking order from usurping their supposedly ever-so-slightly higher twig. Meanwhile, up in the treetops, the "better class of natural rulers" perch and defecate on those below as they bask in the sunlight and annex all the fruit & nuts for themselves. 

Let's face it, human societies all gradually move from dealing with reality to dealing with glamorous spectacles that can be generally characterised as "the theatre of the absurd" populated by flesh robots and puppets activated by the mad scripts of various religions and ideologies most-bizarre, dreamt up by cunning rascals made vicious and greedy by power & wealth! 

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chrisonabike replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
3 likes
Adam Sutton wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

It's disgraceful that clean air should be used as a partisan issue. We need cross-party agreements on becoming greener or at the very least, destroying our world a little bit slower.

Unfortunately the only thing that has become clear is that all this govt cares about is staying in power, and syphoning off tax payers money to their cronies.

No sympathy for this current lot but isn't that any of our governments as time goes on?  If those in power think they'll lose it - or even lose their job - soon, or that any programme they'd wanted to deliver won't now happen, or changes they'd made might be reversed ... why wouldn't they instead look to help their friends / focus on their own future path at that point?

Not sure how that could be changed without breaking something else though!

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Adam Sutton replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
4 likes

You are right, but I think this govt does it on a scale we rarely see.

It does feel that come an election you are not voting for an MP or party that you feel will do right, rather you are voting for the least worse option. I certainly don't think labour will come swooping in and suddenly all will come right, I do feel they would f*** us over somewhat less than what we have now though. 

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chrisonabike replied to Adam Sutton | 7 months ago
0 likes

In my part of the world of course we also have the option of yellow lizards (SNP) as opposed to just red or blue ones - so you can also vote to keep the bigger corruption (which we're learning more of) closer to where we all stay.

(I think it does make a marginal difference if the elite have to walk through - or at least past - the same shitty streets as everyone else.  Or at least know that those they're representing only have to take a short cycle / bus ride to show up with pitchforks and burning torches outside the seat of power).

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

It's disgraceful that clean air should be used as a partisan issue. We need cross-party agreements on becoming greener or at the very least, destroying our world a little bit slower.

Yes.  But almost anything that doesn't have almost universal popular support will be so used.  Ultimately it's the principle goal of politicians to get power and keep it - that's their "point" (e.g. anyone who prioritises something else over that will soon no longer be a politician, or not an effective one).  Witness what Keir Starmer is doing (e.g. ULEZ comments) - it seems anything's up for debate at this point because you can't deliver things in opposition.

Apparently in NL making it safe and convenient for people to cycle where they need is mostly a non-partisan issue.  Even there I believe there are places where driving is more important so will loom large for politicians.

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perce replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
3 likes

Well if this government could privatise our air I'm sure they would. Then you would see air quality nosedive.

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Rendel Harris replied to perce | 7 months ago
2 likes
perce wrote:

Well if this government could privatise our air I'm sure they would. Then you would see air quality nosedive.

Rather a long quote but this, from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, is rather apposite:

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air - or of the money to buy it - even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless they had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it's right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: "It's Their Land," "It's Their Water," "It's Their Coal," "It's Their Iron," so you would say "It's Their Air," "These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?" And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on "Christian Duty" in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of th gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you'll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to "justice" in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.”

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perce replied to Rendel Harris | 7 months ago
3 likes

ST water are currently running an ad on TV which is so detached from reality it's obscene. And we have to pay them while they are polluting our rivers. How wrong is that? Long time since I read that book as well, saw it at the library the other day.

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hawkinspeter replied to perce | 7 months ago
2 likes
perce wrote:

ST water are currently running an ad on TV which is so detached from reality it's obscene. And we have to pay them while they are polluting our rivers. How wrong is that? Long time since I read that book as well, saw it at the library the other day.

I read the graphic novel a little while back which I can recommend: https://www.ekklesia.co.uk/2021/06/26/review-the-ragged-trousered-philanthropists-graphic-novel/

https://rickardsisters.com/product/the-ragged-trousered-philanthropists/

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
1 like

Bloody cyclists.

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
1 like
chrisonatrike wrote:

Bloody cyclists.

As I've got onto a niche topic of socialist graphic novels, I'd better put a link to the excellent Red Rosa biography: https://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/rosa/

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
2 likes

If this were the BBC there would have to be a mention of one about Horst Wessel for "balance" now.

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
1 like
chrisonatrike wrote:

If this were the BBC there would have to be a mention of one about Horst Wessel for "balance" now.

There's a couple of graphic novels based on Ayn Rand's works, but I don't know if they're any good.

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perce replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
1 like

Thanks very much for the link - I'll take a look.

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wtjs replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
3 likes

Can everyone PLEASE stop voting for toxic Tory politicians that seem to actually want toxic air or at least don't care about the plebs having to breathe it in

They really are almost all Tories, these climate change denying nutters who will never acknowledge it until  the seawater rises above the wheels of their Chelsea (and Garstang!) Tractors.

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Hirsute replied to Steve K | 7 months ago
2 likes
Steve K wrote:

 

STOP FEEDING THE TROLLs!

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perce replied to Hirsute | 7 months ago
2 likes

I know what you mean, I really do, but in Nigel's case I think we are the only friends he has. 

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Tom_77 | 7 months ago
5 likes

I drove into London (from Southampton) the other day to take my father in law to a medical appointment. I'm not bothered about paying the £12.50 for the ULEZ, what does bother me is the lack of realistic alternatives to driving. If we had gone by train it would have been nearly £200 for the 2 of us. Driving works out about a quarter of that.

My father in law does complain about the ULEZ. Not sure why, considering that:

  1. he no longer lives in London and rarely drives there.
  2. his car (petrol, nearly 20 year old) is exempt.

I think he sees it as a symptom of "rip-off Britain". He does not, as far as I know, buy into any kind of conspiracy theory. Although I have heard him express the belief that most of Britain's problems could be solved by shooting a few politicians and CEOs "pour encourager les autres".

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NickSprink | 7 months ago
0 likes

Lots of good points.  Certainly in my mind the biggest issue with the expansion of the ULEZ is not the ULEZ itself but the scrappage scheme. 

My car is not compliant (I have checked) but worth a lot more than the £2k I would get from scrapping it, so that is not an option.  And that would be the same for many if not the majority of vehicle that dont comply.  It should be a grant to fund a new compliant car instead.

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brooksby replied to NickSprink | 7 months ago
2 likes

I wonder what proportion of people who'd like to scrap their car are actualy eligible to use the scheme?  You have to be in receipt of certain benefits, IIRC.

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OldRidgeback replied to NickSprink | 7 months ago
5 likes

You can buy a decent 2006 petrol car that's compliant for about £1000.

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