Boris Johnson has accused Sadiq Khan of threatening to impose “a mad lefty tax” on “hard-pressed motorists”, in the latest high-profile attempt to derail the London mayor’s plans to expand the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by the end of August.
In a video posted on social media yesterday, the former Prime Minister – who, during his stint as the Mayor of London, announced the introduction of the world’s first ULEZ in the city in 2015 – also claimed Khan’s planned expansion of the zone to include outer London was “unreasonable and unnecessary for air quality” and is only being introduced to help steady Transport for London’s turbulent finances.
According to the Labour mayor’s plans, the ULEZ – inside which motorists will be charged £12.50 a day for driving non-compliant, high-polluting cars – will be extended to outer London from 29 August, a decision described by Khan as “not easy but necessary to reduce the capital's toxic air pollution”.
As part of the expansion, a £110m scrappage scheme will also be introduced, which aims to provide low-income Londoners with grants of up to £2,000 to replace their high-polluting vehicles.
However, in recent weeks, Khan has faced increasing pressure from local authorities to reconsider the expansion. Eleven of the 19 outer London councils have expressed their apprehension towards the scheme – over issues such as the seven-month timescale of implementation (which they believe does not give residents enough time to switch vehicles), the scrappage policy, and poor public transport links – while some councils have even considered legal action.
Last month, the Conservative-controlled Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Harrow, and Hillingdon councils released a joint statement on the expansion, saying they would “do everything in our power to stop it from going ahead”. They have until the end of February to decide whether to ask the High Court to intervene in the matter.
Khan, meanwhile, has claimed that the vocal opposition to the extended ULEZ is simply a political strategy by Tory councils who he says are “in the pocket of vested interests”.
According to the BBC, the councils which are keen to instigate a judicial review accept that it would be unlikely to succeed, but that it would nevertheless act as a “delay tactic” to “tangle the mayor up in court and push a decision on the matter closer to the 2024 London mayoral election”.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson – whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency includes Hillingdon – weighed in on the expansion, which he claimed will “hit hardworking families and businesses in outer London with an unfair tax grab”.
Stop Sadiq Khan’s mad ULEZ expansion plan.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 15, 2023
In a video posted to social media, the former Prime Minister said: “I know quite a lot about improving air quality in London. I brought in a lot more cycling, I brought in new hybrid buses, I brought in green electric taxis, and we got nitrous oxide down by 20 percent… and that was before we brought in the ULEZ for inner London.
“You do not need an all-London emissions zone… It’s inner London that has the air quality problem. And of course, you don’t need an outer London emissions zone, an ultra-low emissions zone for the whole of London, in the way that Sadiq Khan is imposing one, because by 2030 all new cars in this country are going to be much cleaner and greener anyway.”
He continued: “There’s only one reason why he’s doing it, and that is because he has bankrupted TfL by his mismanagement of the finances of London. He wants to rake in money from motorists in outer London and beyond in a way that is completely unreasonable and unnecessary for air quality.
“So, stop Khan’s mad ULEZ expansion plan… Fight his plans to take money off hard-pressed motorists at a very, very difficult time, and stop this mad lefty tax on people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Responding to Johnson’s claims, a source close to the London mayor insisted that the expansion will improve London’s air quality as well as the health of the city’s residents.
“This just shows how far Boris Johnson has moved away from the days when he was respected for his environmental credentials,” the source said.
“The ULEZ has had a transformational impact reducing dirty emissions in the capital so far, and it’s irresponsible to say that people in outer-London should keep breathing in the dirty air that leads to so many Londoners dying prematurely every year.
“In once again showing his disregard for the facts and for scientific experts, all Boris Johnson is doing is putting the health of Londoners at risk.”
Yesterday’s intervention isn’t the first time that Johnson has added his weight to a debate concerning charging zones designed to tackle pollution.
Last year, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, hit back at the then-Prime Minister after he labelled plans for a clean air charging scheme “badly thought out” and “wrong”.
A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) was set to come into effect in Greater Manchester at the end of May 2022, which would have introduced daily charges for high-emission vehicles ranging from £7.50 for taxis to £60 for HGVs, buses, and coaches (private cars would have been exempt from the new scheme).
However, the scheme was put on hold last March following a backlash from businesses over the cost of making vehicles compliant. In July and August, a new case for an investment-led, non-charging plan was submitted to the government, with the redrafted initiative aiming to “clean up the air we all breathe without adding to the cost-of-living crisis, harming local businesses or our economy”.
When asked during Prime Minister’s Questions last year whether Burnham’s initial plan was an “attack on jobs and opportunity”, Johnson – who abolished the western extension of the London Congestion Charging zone in 2010 – responded: “Yes, and as somebody who once had to deal with a badly thought-out low emission zone, it is totally wrong to impose measures thoughtlessly that damage business and do not do very much to protect clean air.
“The Mayor of Greater Manchester has done the wrong thing, and I am glad we are delaying it.”
In a statement released after PMQs, Burnham criticised the government’s lack of clarity concerning the future of clean air schemes in the UK and accused Johnson of “playing dishonest politics”.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.