Row over Ulez as council backs mayor’s expansion to whole of London

Conservative and Labour councillors clashed at a meeting last night (Tuesday) over the expansion of the low-emission zone, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Plans will see Ulez cover the whole of London by August 2023

Barnet Council leader Barry Rawlings has defended a decision to support the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez).

Conservative opposition councillors raised concerns over the financial impact of the Ulez expansion on the borough’s residents during a full council meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan last year gave the go-ahead to expand the clean-air zone to cover all boroughs from 29th August, claiming the move will help to cut vehicle emissions that can damage people’s health and lead to premature deaths. It means the zone will run to Barnet’s northern boundary rather than stopping at the North Circular, to where Ulez was previously expanded in 2021.

Barnet’s Conservative group has called on the mayor to scrap the expansion, claiming it will be a financial strain on drivers and do little to improve air quality. People with older vehicles that do not meet emissions standards will face a daily charge of £12.50 to drive within the zone

Barnet Council did not oppose the expansion, although its response to the Ulez consultation called for a series of measures to reduce its impact on less well-off groups. The mayor has already announced a £110million scheme to pay some low-income groups to scrap non-compliant vehicles.

David Longstaff, the Conservative group’s deputy leader, asked Cllr Rawlings if he was proud that the Labour administration did not oppose the Ulez expansion despite an “overwhelming majority of residents and businesses” being against it. Last year, a report in The Telegraph newspaper revealed as many as 60% of consultation respondents were opposed to the plans.

Cllr Rawlings said in response that the council’s “robust submission to the consultation and subsequent lobbying” had resulted in the scrappage scheme, which would “help low-income and disabled Londoners as well as charities, microbusinesses and sole traders”.

Cllr Longstaff followed up by asking where this “robust” response was, given the council had failed to oppose the Ulez in its consultation submission. Cllr Rawlings said the response had expressed “robust support” because in 2019 there were “201 premature deaths in Barnet due to poor air quality”.

The Tory deputy asked what the leader would say to a shift worker with a non-compliant diesel car forced to pay a £75 Ulez charge for a five-day working week. Cllr Rawlings said they could benefit from the scrappage scheme, and that he hoped the Conservatives would support the council’s move to become a London Living Wage borough to boost pay for care workers and other low-income groups.

Elliot Simberg, another Conservative, asked if Labour thought it was “fair and just to charge residents further taxes to go about their daily lives”. He asked for “solid evidence” that Ulez is having a positive effect at reducing emissions and what the income from charges is being used for.

Cllr Rawlings said evidence published by TfL showed the expansion of the Ulez to the north and south circular roads in 2021 had “a significant impact on the number of older, more polluting vehicles seen driving in London and the levels of harmful pollution Londoners are exposed to”. He added that revenue raised from charges would be invested in “public transport enhancements in outer

When Cllr Simberg asked whether the mayor had considered the impact of the expansion on “small businesses coming into London”, Cllr Rawlings pointed to the scrappage scheme to help people switch to more eco-friendly vehicles.

Conservative leader Dan Thomas put forward a motion to the full council meeting calling on Cllr Rawlings to “make a last-ditch attempt to stop the mayor’s expansion of Ulez and advise him [that] this council will oppose any form of road pricing”. However, the motion was not debated.

The Conservatives voted in favour of the motion, but it was not approved after the majority Labour group voted against.

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