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“I am not against fresh air”

In the third part of her four-part series on Barnet’s views of the Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion, Maya Sall investigates the impact on local businesses

Mr Savino of Savino Soft Ice Cream, standing in front of a new ice cream van bought to comply with London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)
Mr Savino with his ULEZ compliant ice cream van – (Credit – Maya Sall)

A big criticism of the ULEZ expansion is the impact it will have on local charities and small businesses and traders. Whether it is paying the £12.50 daily charge, or upgrading to a compliant vehicle, any business or charity with a non-compliant vehicle will be taking a hit.

Geoffrey Pizzey of Bellmour Decorations uses both a van and a car in running his local painting and decorating business. 

Earlier this year, he chose to upgrade “two perfectly good vehicles” to avoid ULEZ charges. The cost was substantial – his new van cost £16,000, and his car £20,000 and he received £5,000 scrappage for the van, and nothing for the car. 

“I’m near retirement,” said Pizzey, who is 62, “the last thing I wanted to do was go out and buy new vehicles. It’s like taking out a second mortgage.”

He told me about the stress of finding replacement vehicles, and his frustration at being unable to find a replacement van, “I was looking for a van for the best part of three months, and I ended up settling for something I didn’t particularly like, just for the piece of mind.” 

Nevertheless, Pizzey doesn’t feel like he has benefitted from upgrading his vehicle. Instead, the Camden born and raised businessman now “tries to afford going into town at all costs” because “you pay through the nose for everything in this city.” 

He explained that driving is his only option, as he suffers from panic attacks if he gets the tube, “it’s been that way my whole life – I have no idea why.” 

He added: “it’s the working class that are getting pushed further and further out of this city, while the government lines their pockets.”

Since Pizzey purchased his vehicles, Sadiq Khan has amended the scrappage scheme, meaning it is available to all Londoners, increasing the amount of money that can be claimed. However, this does remove the wider impact of the expansion on businesses. 

“Hotels exist on discretionary spending”

Andrew Beale, the Managing Director of the West Lodge Park Hotel, explained how the ULEZ expansion will affect his company: “We have around 105 staff at West Lodge Park, and around 20 of them have non-ULEZ compliant vehicles to get to work. They live in places as far afield as Aylesbury, Harlow, Stevenage… [and] will have to pay £62.50 per week, from taxed income, or £3000 per year simply to get to work five days per week.” 

Beale said those working night shifts – who are not high-earning – will be worst affected, “if they are working five days, they will need to pay ULEZ six times over each week, £75 per week, or £3600 per annum.”

For the hotel’s customers, Beale pointed out that ULEZ adds an additional £25 to a guest’s stay. Bealed predicted that “if faced with a choice of two similar hotels, one inside the zone and one outside, then they would rightly choose the cheaper alternative,” before emphasising that “hotels exist on discretionary spending, few people need absolutely to use a hotel services, but they will think twice if it will cost so much more.”

Beale’s predictions about the impact of ULEZ on clientele are not yet confirmed but the effect of the expansion will have on his supply chain is already being felt, he said: “we are in early August and have already had numerous suppliers tell us either that they won’t be coming into the ULEZ area after August 29th, or will be loading the £12.0 per day surcharge onto our bills.” 

These higher prices are almost certain, Beale explained as “the percentage of suppliers with non ULEZ compliant vans is… around 30% in this area.”

“I am not against fresh air,” Beale clarifies, “[but] costs, surcharges, new suppliers at higher rates will all feed into higher prices for our guests at a time of cost of living crisis.”

“This is not about bankers”

Marc Santhi, CEO of the Eleanor Healthcare Group, whose care workers support the elderly, vulnerable and disabled, is broadly in support of the ULEZ expansion but mirrored Beale’s concern about the cost impact on their care providers.

He said: “This is not about bankers, this is about people living on London Living Wages, and the ULEZ charge is an hour out of their wages per day.” 

Santhi also echoed MP Theresa Villiers’ argument against the ULEZ expansion in highlighting that organisations like theirs are “already struggling to recruit for the care-sector”, and the additional costs like ULEZ deter people from entering the care profession.

However, Santhi qualified this with support for aims of the ULEZ expansion: “we believe in working towards zero-carbon emissions… but we also have to balance it with protecting vulnerable people.” 

To attract attention to their cause, they have launched a campaign calling for the Mayor of London and local councils to increase compensation and implement subsidies for care workers, allowing them to work in a manner which benefits both the community and the environment. 

Of the 36 Barnet-based care workers, 30 use bus passes provided by Eleanor Healthcare Group. The remaining six already own a ULEZ compliant car, but Santhi explains that they want more of their workers to be car-based: “Our care workers don’t use cars because it is a luxury, but because it is a must… sometimes they are doing evening calls, or in the Winter when it gets dark in the afternoon, or a nightshift. 98% of our care workers are women, and so a car is safer.”

One careworker looking to buy a ULEZ compliant car is Fathima Azmiya Mohamed Murbarak. Having only become a full-time care-worker last month, she tells Barnet Post she takes pride in her work and finds the unreliability of her bus commutes stressful: “If we are hurried, we can’t give a perfect service, and I like to be there at least five minutes before I need to start so everyone is relaxed – the patients, they like to be able to have a chat.”

Azmiya has her eye on an automatic Totoya, but at around £5000, she knows she is going to have to save hard for at least another four months. Believing that “air pollution is a big problem”, Azmiya told Barnet Post she worries about climate change, but “I also worry about caring for the elderly.” 

She wanted both central and local government to “give us support for the ULEZ charges”, so “we can give a better, more confident service to our clients.” 

“I want to have healthy air around the kids”

One local businessman who is confident in the future of his service is ice cream vendor Mr Savino, of Savino Soft Ice Cream. 

For two decades, Savino has been doing his round from Park Royal across to Colindale. That journey, plus his commute to and from home means he is totalling approximately 70 miles a day. 

Since he upgraded his van from a 2004 Ford Transit, to a ULEZ compliant 2017 Mercedes, not only has he saved £5 a day in petrol, but Savino estimates his business has increased by 200%. 

“I paid a lot more tax this year”, he joked, laughing almost in disbelief at the attention his van receives, “I’ve had people not buy an ice cream, but just ask if they can take a picture with the van”.

Making the upgrade to a ULEZ compliant ice cream van cost Savino £80,000 but the decision was a no-brainer, “on the days that it rains I could come down and spend £12.50 but make no money. It didn’t make sense [not to upgrade].” 

Savino upgraded his van last year, and made £15,000 from his old van, “I’ve been doing my round for years, I’ve got a secure customer base and I knew I could afford to upgrade my van – it’s not as easy for the other guys, the less established vendors”. 

Savino’s van is fuelled by diesel, but when plugged into three phase power it also runs off electricity. When I asked if he knew how many fully electric ice cream vans there were in the UK, he answered confidently, “I can count them on one hand”. 

Informing me that an electric ice cream van costs £180,000, Savino said he believed the government should be giving loans to ice cream vendors, “just give us a low interest loan, like a mortgage payment. In Birmingham you can buy a house for the price of an electric ice cream van… how can any small business afford that without help? Ice cream vans are heritage in this country, people don’t want to see us gone.”

Alongside heritage, Savino also cited the primary consumer of the 99p flake as a reason ice cream vendors should be receiving government investment: “We’re around children all the time… and I want to have healthy air around the kids.”

For Savino, the benefits of a ULEZ compliant van go beyond the profits “when I drive this van, I realise how bad that [his old van] was, I used to cough, and I could smell the fumes”. 

“I’ve driven all my life [for work], so I don’t know what kind of damage I’ve done”, Savino contemplates, “I’m in my forties now and you start thinking about these things [one’s health]”.

In a borough as large as Barnet, a one-size fits all approach to dealing with how its businesses tackle the ULEZ expansion was only going to stretch so far. 

At the end of the interview, as Barnet Post tucked into a nostalgic 99p flake with strawberry sauce, Savino contemplated his ideal future, “Sadiq Khan has to deal with every business separately – everybody has their own needs, and someone, whether it’s the government or London mayor, needs to be better at coming up with more bespoke solutions.” 

This is the third part of Maya Sall’s four-part series on Barnet’s view on the ULEZ expansion. The first part – featuring local politicians campaigning against the expansion is published here and the second part on the views of local pro-ULEZ campaigners is published here.

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