Cycling groups along with climate and clean air campaigns in the UK have welcomed the High Court's ruling of the ULEZ expansion into Greater London as lawful, claiming that the step will not only deliver cleaner air, but also encourage people to use environmentally-friendly transport alternatives and drive the switch away from relying on cars.
Mayor Sadiq Khan's proposed expansion of the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which he sees as "vital" to tackle air pollution from motor vehicles, at the end of August was deemed lawful by the High Court earlier today, after a legal challenge launched by five Conservative-led councils.
Motorists inside the extended zone will be charged £12.50 a day for driving non-compliant, high-polluting cars from August 29.
Many cycling campaigns, climate action groups and clean air coalitions are hoping that the move will encourage more people to switch their car journeys to cleaner alternatives, such as cycling, walking, or using public transport.
Simon Munk from London Cycling Campaign told road.cc: "It’s really good news that London’s ULEZ zone is now set to expand in August. London must act on pollution, at too high levels across the capital, and the expansion will be a positive step in not only delivering cleaner air but enabling people to use alternatives to cars.
"The legal action came primarily from councils that are among those who have done least on delivering action on air quality, climate emissions and walking, cycling and wheeling, and the legal arguments they put forward made little sense.
"We hope the leaders of the London boroughs involved reflect on what they have cost their own residents, and more, on how they now need to work with the rest of London on delivering cleaner air, lower emissions, and to enable residents to ditch car journeys whenever possible. ULEZ expanding is another step in the right direction for a healthier, cleaner, greener London."
Active travel charity Sustrans also supported the High Court ruling, with Sustrans London Director, James Cleeton saying that it would be "great to see more energy from councils put into constructively working with the Mayor to improve public transport, increase public green space and come up with smart ideas that would reduce harmful vehicle pollution fairly for the benefit of everyone".
The High Court has ruled that @MayorofLondon #ULEZ expansion can proceed. We stand by what we said in May 2022 when the Mayor first announced the ULEZ expansion consultation. Here are a few words from @Sustrans London Director, @JamesCleeton (🧵 1/5): pic.twitter.com/K5wUt6x9r3
— Sustrans in London (@SustransLondon) July 28, 2023
He added: "No responsible government at local, regional or national level, can let a situation continue where children, who have no voice in this debate, suffer stunted lungs and 4,000 people die prematurely each year because the air in London is so dirty, falling well short of World Health Organisation guidelines.
"It is for the people we elect to make these difficult decisions for the benefit of the whole population and our support is with those leaders who persevere with creating a healthier city."
Donnachadh McCarthy, Director Climate Media Coalition, also said that this step would help poorer people switch away from cars and adopt less polluting options, citing transport as the single largest source of pollution in the UK.
McCarthy told road.cc: "The London Mayor promised to clean up London's air when elected.
"So the High Court upholding ULEZ is good news for all people cycling, walking or using public transport in London who have to breathe toxic fumes from too many vehicles, when cycling to school, hospital or work. It is also good news for London's 500,000 asthmatics."
.@sianberry says ULEZ will ‘save lives’ as she reacts to judgment ruling that the scheme can go ahead without delay.
Watch here 👇 pic.twitter.com/e2bF2d6xz6
— City Hall Greens (@CityHallGreens) July 28, 2023
Roger Geffen, policy director at Cycling UK, told road.cc: "The court’s decision to uphold Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand ULEZ is a win for everyone who breathes London’s air. Efforts to restrain car use often meet with resistance before they’re implemented yet are popular once in place.
"ULEZ is a life-saving scheme that will cut pollution from dirty cars and vans in the capital, while compensating those least able to switch. We urge politicians of all parties to back cleaner air and to promote safe and healthy alternatives such as cycling, not just in London but throughout the UK."
Mayor Khan's ULEZ has become a chief source of contention among the city's locals, and with his push to expand the zone to the capital's peripheries and surrounding boroughs, he even came under fire from his party's leader.
After what many saw as a surprise defeat for Labour in Uxbridge & South Ruislip's by-elections last week, Sir Keir Starmer had put pressure on Khan to "rethink" the expansion.
However, data released today shows that 58 per cent of residents in inner London support ULEZ, which has been in place since 2019.
58% support in inner London, where the ULEZ charge has been in place since Boris Johnson introduced it when he was Mayor.
So more people in inner London already know that the vast majority of vehicles are exempt, and appreciate the benefits of cleaner air they've experienced. https://t.co/jN6wRgJXmE
— Gareth Redmond-King (@gredmond76) July 28, 2023
Ironically, for all the backlash Khan has faced since then, the plans for the ULEZ were initially introduced in 2015 by then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson. However, the former leader of the Conservative Party has changed his stance since then, calling the expansion "unneccesary" and labelling it a "mad lefty tax" designed to "rake in money from hard-pressed motorists".
The judicial review on which the High Court ruled today got underway earlier this month after the five Conservative-controlled councils of Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Harrow, and Hillingdon, along with Surrey Council, launched an appeal, publicly declaring that they would "do everything in our power to stop it from going ahead".
In his verdict today, Justice Swift said that the ULEZ expansion was "sound" and in line with previous decision on motor vehicle-related charging within the capital.
Swift added that he was "satisfied" that the mayor’s decision "was within his powers", and that the consultation on the scrappage scheme was "not in depth" but was "lawful".
Immediately after the verdict, Khan announced that he was proceeding with the expansion, due to come into effect from August 29. He released a statement saying: "The decision to expand the ULEZ was very difficult and not something I took lightly and I continue to do everything possible to address any concerns Londoners may have.
"I've been listening to Londoners throughout the ULEZ rollout, which is why from next week I am expanding the scrappage scheme to nearly a million families who receive child benefit and all small businesses with up to fifty employees. I will continue to look at new ideas to support Londoners."
He continued: "Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already compliant so won't pay a penny – yet will still see the benefits of cleaner air. Air pollution is an urgent public health crisis – our children are growing up with stunted lungs and it is linked to a host of serious conditions, from heart disease to cancer and dementia.
"This unambiguous decision today in the High Court allows us to press on with the difficult but vital task of cleaning up London's air and tackling the climate crisis."
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.