When the clock strikes midnight on Monday, Sadiq Khan will doubtless be celebrating what he may well regard as the pinnacle of his career as London Mayor.
After overcoming years of protests, wrangling and a High Court battle, he will finally see his much-vaunted expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) from Central London to the M25 come into effect. It is expected to generate an estimated £1.1 billion in extra annual revenue for the Labour mayor’s office by 2025.
But far from being a political triumph, the expansion of the daily £12.50 charge on older vehicles is fast turning into a public relations disaster for the hapless Khan.
Almost nine in ten of the new cameras installed to enforce the so-called environmental tax have been stolen or vandalised. Relentless vigilantes, who call themselves ‘Blade Runners’, have been cutting through the camera wires or removing the equipment altogether as fast as the installations have been taking place.
After overcoming years of protests, wrangling and a High Court battle, Khan will finally see his much-vaunted expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) come into effect
Khan also pledged that 2,750 new enforcement cameras would be installed in new areas covered by the zone, at a cost of up to £75 million, but as of August 16, his team had fallen short by a staggering 800. The missing and damaged cameras will cause chaos after the launch.
In a sign of his growing desperation, Khan lashed out on the LBC radio station on Thursday, claiming much of the opposition to his plans was coming from a combination of oddballs and Right-wingers.
‘I didn’t expect for there to be people linking my policies to clean up the air with conspiracy theories,’ he said, adding: ‘I didn’t expect this to be weaponised by those who you and I have exchanged with, who didn’t believe Covid was real, believed in conspiracy theories and so forth.’
Unfortunately for Khan, his case was immediately undermined by a tearful intervention from the mother of a disabled boy. ‘Lorraine’ called in to the show to tell the London mayor that Ulez will confine her disabled son to the house as he cannot use public transport.
Council rules relating to ‘hidden disabilities’ mean the family car is not eligible for an exemption from the charges.
‘It’s disgusting that we’re being discriminated against,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know there are a lot of parents who are in the same situation. I’ve been having breakdowns over this.’
The London mayor also faces a deliberate campaign of obstruction to Ulez from a host of local councils objecting to the expansion. Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon boroughs and Surrey County Council may have been defeated in the High Court last month after launching a challenge to block the expansion — but the defeat has only stiffened the resolve of the Tory- controlled authorities.
Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon boroughs and Surrey County Council were defeated in the High Court last month after launching a challenge to block the expansion
Scout master James Hunt (Pictured: third from left) will not longer be able to use the Jimmy Mizen bus donated to the scouts due to the expansion of the ULEZ zone in London
And it has triggered an even bigger revolt from Home County local authorities such as Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent as well as Surrey that border the expanded zone, and whose residents will be charged whenever they drive into it.
They are refusing to put up signs warning drivers they are approaching the new Ulez area.
Richard Roberts, the leader of Hertfordshire County Council, is typical of the scheme’s opponents. ‘This is a tax grab,’ he says. ‘Sadiq Khan has created a tax border and I don’t want to put signs up, the mayor’s signs, which in any way suggests we endorse his plans.’
In Thurrock in Essex, the Tory-run unitary authority is also refusing to co-operate. Councillor Andrew Jefferies, the council leader, said: ‘We are not going to do anything to implement this pernicious stealth tax on drivers which will hit some of our most vulnerable residents.’
There has been a huge row in Essex over the fact that the expanded zone includes Upminster Cemetery, set in 17 acres of land in the neighbouring London borough of Havering.
Khan lashed out on the LBC radio station on Thursday, claiming much of the opposition to his plans was coming from a combination of oddballs and right-wingers
Councillor Jefferies said: ‘This horrible tax will prevent people visiting the gravesides of loved ones . . . how low can you get?’
The extent of the rebellion is causing a serious headache in London’s City Hall which has written to the councils begging them to change their stance.
The mayor’s office has good reason to be worried. Unless there are signs warning drivers they are entering the new zone, Khan will face a wave of legal challenges if motorists are hit with the standard £180 fine for failure to pay the £12.50 charge. Khan insists Ulez is needed to clean up toxic air and protect the health of five million more Londoners across the outer boroughs — 60 per cent of Greater London’s 8.8 million population.
But even his pollution claims are mired in controversy after it emerged that one of his key allies urged scientists to alter a study in The Lancet, the respected medical journal, which showed Ulez made no difference to children’s health.
Shirley Rodrigues, the deputy mayor for environment and energy, contacted Professor Chris Griffiths of Queen Mary University of London to ask him to ‘reword’ the study’s conclusion which found ‘no evidence’ of health benefits to children’s lungs.
Ms Rodrigues complained: ‘It reads like Lez [low emissions zones] or similar have no impact at all.’ In the private exchange from November 2018, Professor Griffiths refused the request, replying to Ms Rodrigues: ‘Apologies — it’s difficult to alter the sentence you refer to as it’s what we set out to look for but didn’t find.’
Activists in Orpington, London turned up protest the expansion of the Ulez last Friday
Ms Rodrigues has also been accused of shamelessly trying to ‘silence’ scientists at Imperial College London, who found the charge had little impact on pollution.
In a chain of emails in November 2021 between her and Professor Frank Kelly, a director of Imperial’s environmental research group, she said she was ‘really disappointed’ with Professor Kelly’s fellow academics at Imperial.
They published a study suggesting the Central London Ulez had a relatively small effect on air pollution. This is despite the fact Professor Kelly’s team had been paid nearly £1 million by Khan’s office.
Stephen Pound, a former London Labour MP, was appalled by this and said deputy mayor Rodrigues had to go. ‘It is an absolute scandal. If she doesn’t resign, she should be sacked,’ he said. And only last week it emerged Khan himself has not always been so messianic about Ulez’s benefits.
In written correspondence from July 2021, unearthed by the Daily Mail, the London mayor said he had ‘no plans’ to extend the Ulez to cover Greater London, adding that air quality on these roads ‘will be more effectively addressed through targeted, local measures’.
The data reveals that non-London residents currently pay 86 per cent of the Ulez fines when they drive into central London
Over the past three years the number of fines in the original Ulez area soared by 70 per cent, bringing in an extra £55 million last year
Khan is also under fire because the £12.50 Ulez charge and the fines for non-payment dwarf the costs of similar schemes in other parts of the country.
Under the Khan scheme, cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds which do not comply with Ulez regulations will be fined £180 or £90 if they settle the debt within 14 days. In Bristol, which has a Labour-elected mayor, the charge is £9 a day and the fine £120. In Birmingham, which is Labour-controlled, the charge is £8 and the fine £120.
Khan continues to insist the Ulez expansion is simply a measure to improve the environment for Londoners. But the numbers show his administration has enjoyed huge financial benefits from it.
Over the past three years the number of fines in the original Ulez area soared by 70 per cent, bringing in an extra £55 million last year. The scheme has raised £321 million in fines since its introduction in April 2019.
The data also reveals that non-London residents currently pay 86 per cent of the fines when they drive into central London.
Susan Hall, the London Tory Mayoral candidate, says Sadiq Khan’s Ulez tax-grab will be devastating: ‘My inbox has been overwhelmed by people desperately worried about how they are going to pay the daily charge or buy a new vehicle. I promise that on day one of my mayoralty, I will stop the Ulez expansion.’
Under the Khan scheme, cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds which do not comply with Ulez regulations will be fined £180 or £90 if they settle the debt within 14 days
The Labour leadership is also appalled by Khan’s decision to plough on with Ulez, as they blame him for the surprising failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election last month, triggered by Boris Johnson’s resignation as an MP.
Sir Keir Starmer now fears that it could hit his party’s prospects not just in outer London seats but in Bristol and Birmingham, which have similar schemes.
Until the recent by-election debacle, Sir Keir was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the new tax.
One senior Labour MP tells me: ‘We hope after the initial wave of anger people will get used to the new charge. But if they don’t, it could be a real electoral problem.’
This may well explain why the Tories are not using powers granted to them under Section 143 of the Act that established the Greater London Authority.
That states that if a mayor tries to introduce anything ‘inconsistent with national policy relating to transport’ or is ‘detrimental to any area outside Greater London’, the minister has the power to prevent it.
As the Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn observed last week: ‘The word is that the Tories have decided to make Ulez a big issue at the next mayoral and general elections, in a bid to topple Sadiq Khan and hold on to suburban and Home Counties constituencies currently looking likely to fall to Labour.’
This is why there is now talk for the first time in informed Labour circles that the Ulez expansion could actually cost Labour the jewel in the party’s local government crown: Sadiq Khan’s job, and the London mayoralty itself.
Up to 780,000 motorists are still looking to sell their non-compliant cars, says used-car sales website Motorway.
And with so many people disposing of petrol cars bought before 2006 and diesel cars bought before 2015 to avoid the charge, 42 per cent of Londoners are concerned they won’t get a good price.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s scrappage scheme offers car owners just £2,000, a derisory sum when a new standard saloon car, such as a Ford Focus, costs about £26,000. Here, groups, individuals and business-owners reveal the shocking effect the expansion will have on their lives . . .
Ulez case studies
Not even the world of scouting and guiding is immune to the Ulez expansion scheme. James Hunt, chairman of the trustees for the Greater London South East Scouts says: ‘In Bexley and Bromley, we have discovered our minibuses don’t meet the requirements. Hundreds of Scouts and Guides rely on those buses to get to their activities.
‘Now we need to find huge amounts of money to replace them. The money would be better spent on activities for our young people.’
Shutting up shop
Ulez expansion means a number of small firms have gone out of business or are expecting to. In Ruislip. the London Oven Cleaning Company, founded in 2005, shut up shop yesterday for the last time.
Steve O’Neill, 58, who ran the business, said: ‘It’s madness that polluted air in Hillingdon — a borough with two airports incidentally — is more important than housing the homeless or reducing the number of murders on our streets.
‘I think Sadiq Khan is a tyrant.’
For more than 60 years, CF & MC fruit and vegetable wholesalers have been at the heart of the Surbiton Hill Park community — but not for much longer as they’ll be closing down.
The £12.50 charge has been slapped on three of the family-run firm’s five older vans. Martyn Steer, 65, started working in the business when he was only five years old. ‘I would have liked to have done another four or five years until I was 70,’ he says. ‘But if I did, I would have to get three new vehicles and that’s £100,000. I just don’t want that sort of debt at my age.’
Prisoners in homes
In Welling, Steve and Pam Brewis, both 76, ran a successful mechanics business until they retired. From Tuesday, they will be part of the new Ulez zone and even though Mr Brewis is a Blue badge holder because of disability issues, he does not escape the charge.
‘I’m waiting for a knee operation but will no longer be able to drive to the local hospital,’ he said.
‘We are furious. We’ve worked hard all our lives but don’t have the spare cash to pay £12.50 a day let alone to invest in a new car . . . we will be prisoners in our own home.’
End to volunteering
Conquest Art is a charity in Epsom which helps anyone over the age of 16 living with a disability or long-term illness to build self-confidence through art.
Anne Bland-Botham, 82, is one of the volunteers who drives members to and from the club each Tuesday. But Ulez will add £50 a month to her trips and she feels she will not be able to continue the service.
Her son-in-law Tony Shields says: ‘[Her] car has been a lifeline to disabled and elderly people but not for much longer.’