15 May 2024
London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

Transport within London is devolved to the Mayor of London, who has taken the decision to expand the existing ULEZ across the whole of London.  This is despite having said at the last mayoral election he would only expand it to the North and South circular roads.  He is not legally required to consult either central or local government before doing so.

ULEZ was expanded across all London boroughs from 29 August 2023. This followed a High Court ruling on 28 July that the process carried out on the proposal to expand the ULEZ, including the public consultation, was legal. The expanded zone covers the same area as the Low Emission Zone.

I understand concerns surrounding the impact of the expansion of the ULEZ on Londoners, those who commute into London and small businesses. Estimates show that, following the expansion, approximately 160,000 cars and 42,000 vans that use London’s roads on an average day would be liable for the £12.50 ULEZ charge. As a scheme that applies in London, this is the Mayor’s decision, and he is accountable for the impact of it.

Although the Government is clear that the Mayor needs to put Transport for London on a financially sustainable footing, the Government believes that this does not require expansion of the ULEZ, and has prevented him from using government money to fund the expansion.

Government has been clear the Mayor of London’s decision to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone charging area to the London borders, in breach of his own manifesto commitment, is a tax on the poorest motorists, which his own impact assessment states, in terms of air pollution, will only have a moderate impact on NOx and minor impact on particulates. Given this, and the delays to the scrappage scheme, which have reportedly seen the majority of claimants unpaid, I was happy to support Gareth Johnson MP’s Private Members’ Bill.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that when given the opportunity Opposition members appeared to be filibustering which meant that parliamentary time ran out before the Bill could be advanced. This includes a 33 minute speech by Lilian Greenwood, the MP for Nottingham South. It is disappointing to see that these MPs would rather talk than support legislation that makes the Mayor of London engage with communities and drivers on ULEZ.

Commuting into London from outside the ULEZ -

Transport for London's own figures show that non-residents make around 1 million car journeys a day to, from or within London. This is a significant volume of people who rely on being able to travel into London by car, who are impacted by the expansion of the ULEZ and will not have been provided a say on it either at the ballot box or via consultation.

Camera Enforcement -

It is my understanding that Transport for London has previously confirmed that it does not use live facial recognition technology nor intend to deploy it for the purposes of enforcing the ULEZ.

TfL operates a network of more than 1,500 Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras to enforce road user charging schemes, such as the ULEZ.

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner has stated that "there are ongoing issues around the lack of statutory footing for ANPR. There are also concerns around proportionality and who gets access to the data."

The Surveillance Camera Code provides that “any proposed extension to the purposes for which a system was established and images and information are collected should be subject to consultation before any decision is taken."

Poorer Motorists -

I understand concerns that the ULEZ expansion has a significant impact on the poorest in society. It is important that, during a period of global economic turbulence and hardship, people are not priced out of their own commute to work or their leisure travel within the capital.

Medical Reimbursement and NHS Staff -

Under some specific health-related criteria, it is possible for patients to reclaim the daily ULEZ charge via the hospital. It is necessary to pay the charge first and then claim it back at the hospital. The hospital in question then claims the money back from TfL.

Reimbursement is available for those who are clinically assessed as having an illness, frailty or disability that prevents them from using public transport and have a compromised immune system; require regular therapy or assessments and need regular surgical intervention.

I appreciate concerns about the complexity and deficiencies of the exemptions as they stand for patients and lack of similar provision for NHS staff.

Scrappage -

To accompany the expansion of the ULEZ, the Mayor of London has announced a scrappage scheme for non-compliant vehicles. 

From 21 August, Londoners can apply for cash grants of up to £2,000 to scrap their non-compliant cars or motorcycles. As a new feature, successful applicants can choose to receive a higher value package comprised of up to two free annual bus and tram passes and a lower cash grant. 

Disabled people who want to scrap or retrofit a non-compliant wheelchair accessible vehicle are able to apply for grants of £5,000 to reflect the higher cost of these vehicles. Disabled people can also apply for a nominated driver who lives at a different address if they do not drive themselves. 

Charities, sole traders and business with 10 or fewer employees registered in London can apply to scrap a van (£5,000 grant) or a minibus (£7,000 grant), retrofit certain vans or minibuses (£5,000 grant) or scrap and replace a van or minibus with a fully electric vehicle (£7,500 or £9,500 grant respectively).  

Swappage -

I understand concerns around the impact of ULEZ scrappage schemes and appreciate your alternative suggestion for a car 'swappage scheme' whereby drivers inside the expanded ULEZ area can swap their non-compliant vehicle for a ULEZ-compliant vehicle from someone living outside of the ULEZ area. 

C40 Cities -

The C40 is a network of megacities from around the world which provides research, knowledge-sharing and coordination in support of climate change policy.

The C40 was originally established in 2005 and, as I understand it, London is the only British city which is a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. London's membership of this group is ultimately a devolved matter for the Mayor London.

The C40 receives funding from a variety of public and private sources, including the UK Government. I understand that £27.5 million in funding has been provided for a new Urban Climate Action programme to support cities and regions in developing countries most impacted by climate change to accelerate their transition to net zero.

It is important that public money is invested wisely and I will continue to monitor the work of C40 Cities.

Mayor's powers and legality -

Under Section 295 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the Mayor is able to require one or more London boroughs to implement a road user charging scheme. The Mayor is also able to issue guidance to boroughs on the form which their schemes should take and may specify certain aspects of schemes which will require prior approval.

I am aware of calls to use powers under Section 143 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to block the expansion. I understand the Secretary of State has sought legal advice and been informed that he cannot legally use this route to block a specific measure, such as ULEZ expansion, from being introduced.

Places of Worship Exemption -

I am aware of reports that people travelling to specific places of worship, for example mosques, will be exempt from ULEZ charges. However, as I understand it, these claims are inaccurate as no such specific exemptions exist. A temporary exemption is, however, in place for minibuses providing community transport services.

Fraudulent ULEZ websites -

Like you, I am angry that unofficial and scam websites have been using paid-for search engine results to make themselves more visible. I know that TfL is working with search engine firms to minimise and remove these results.

Although this is ultimately a matter for TfL, the industry's Advertising Standards Authority and search engine providers, I will pass your concerns on to ministerial colleagues.