London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has today [29 August] been expanded to the UK capital’s outer boroughs after the scheme was ruled lawful by the High Court last month.
Five Conservative-run councils had launched legal action in February over the expansion, which now sees drivers of non-compliant vehicles across the whole of London and border areas of Surrey, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire charged £12.50 a day to use them.
Those behind the plan hope the scheme will incentivise people to use cleaner transport alternatives and, as a result, help improve the city’s air quality.
According to Transport for London (TfL), only a small number of people will be impacted by the expansion, with nine out of 10 vehicles reportedly compliant with ULEZ requirements.
Petrol vehicles from January 2006 onward and diesel vehicles from September 2015 onward are ULEZ-compliant (see below for more information on eligibility).
However, the five local authorities – Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley and Harrow in London, plus Surrey County Council – challenged the rollout in the courts, arguing the capital’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, had exceeded his legal powers with such a large expansion of the scheme.
The councils also claimed the consultation on the plan was flawed, and not enough information had been shared over the scrappage scheme, which provides grant payments to successful applicants to scrap or retrofit their vehicles that do not meet ULEZ emissions standards and switch to cleaner, greener modes of transport.
While two parts of the challenge were dismissed in April, the councils were given permission to argue three grounds of challenge in the High Court, and the two sides fought it out over two days of evidence.
It is estimated that more than £1m of the councils’ public money will have been spent on the court case.
A UK government spokesperson said: “It is for the mayor of London to justify his decision to expand the ULEZ, and to consult properly to ensure it is not just another tax on hardworking families.
“At a time when the government is doing everything it can to support people with the cost of living, it is for the mayor to decide whether it is fair for Londoners with non-compliant vehicles to be charged £12.50 every time they drive.
“The government has already provided TfL with £6bn in funding support since 2020, including almost £102m for projects specifically targeted at helping to tackle pollution.”
Following the ruling, Khan said he believed the High Court’s decision was good news for London, “because it means from the end of August we can make greater progress in cleaning up the air in outer London”.
“The decision to expand ULEZ was a difficult one for me to take, it wasn’t taken lightly, but it’s essential we make more progress cleaning up the air in our city,” said Khan.
Referencing the opposition to the scheme and the debate surrounding it, Khan said: “I have been listening and I will carry on listening” but added that the High Court ruling was “quite clear”.
He went on to say the 10 boroughs with the highest number of premature deaths are all in outer London.
In June, the Greater London Authority commissioned a report by air quality and climate change consultants Aether into pollution levels in London.
It found that while progress had been made to reduce air pollution concentrations since 2016, the city’s population was still forecast to remain exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in concentrations above the air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2030 “unless further significant action is taken to reduce concentrations”.
It also found the most deprived communities of London still more commonly live in the most polluted areas and that the areas that had the lowest air pollution concentrations had a disproportionately white population.
“The exposure inequalities experienced between ethnic groups are much more pronounced in outer London than inner London,” the consultants found.
To help drivers of non-compliant cars affected by the ULEZ expansion, the mayor of London confirmed a £50m top-up of the scrappage scheme, totalling £160m, to every Londoner affected by ULEZ.
It means that anyone who lives in London can access up to £2,000 to replace non-compliant cars. More support has also been made available for businesses, charities and disabled drivers.
The scheme is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and people can only claim from it if their vehicle is not ULEZ compliant, such as:
- Motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards (pre-2007 models)
- Petrol cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards (pre-2006 vehicles)
- Diesel cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 standards (pre-2015 vehicles)
- Buses, coaches and lorries will need to meet or exceed the Euro VI standard, or pay £100 a day to drive within the zone
Under the terms of the scheme, Londoners with non-compliant vehicles can claim a maximum of:
- £1,000 (motorcycles)
- £1,600 (for a scrapped car as well as one adult-rate annual bus and tram pass)
- £2,000 (cars)
- £6,000 (retrofitting a vehicle)
- £7,000 (vans owned by sole traders and small trades)
- £9,000 (minibuses owned by charities with a registered address in London)
- £10,000 (wheelchair-adapted vehicles used by disabled Londoners)
Interestingly, drivers who breach the rules of London’s expanded ULEZ may initially be warned rather than fined.
TfL told the PA news agency it can use its “discretion” to issue warning letters instead of penalty charge notices (PCNs).
TfL said in a statement: “TfL reserves the right to use discretion to issue a warning notice instead of a PCN.
“However, we would advise anyone driving a non-compliant vehicle in the zone to pay the charge to avoid the risk of being fined.”
Failure to pay the £12.50 daily charge can lead to a PCN of £180, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
The AA said it is “essential” that drivers are not fined “until the system beds in” across the new ULEZ areas.
AA president Edmund King said: “It is essential that TfL sends out warning letters to drivers not complying with the ULEZ until the system beds in.
“We know that there is a widespread lack of signage outside the current zone in areas such as Hertfordshire, so fining drivers who don’t even know they are in the zone would backfire.
“Drivers need fair warning of when they are about to enter the ULEZ or when they are on a road that will take them into the zone if they stay on it.
“If TfL do not send out warnings they will be deluged with complaints from drivers.
“If they turn down appeals to have fines cancelled, huge numbers will take their complaints to the traffic penalties tribunal.”
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