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“The point of ULEZ is not to buy everyone a new vehicle”

In the fourth and final part of her four-part series on Barnet’s views of the Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion, Maya Sall puts big questions about the scheme to local Labour politicians

Headshot of London assembly member for Barnet and Camden, Anne Clarke
Anne Clarke (Labour), London assembly member for Barnet and Camden – (Credit – GLA)

Investigating Barnet’s opinions on ULEZ has involved talking to a wide cross section of the borough’s residents. 

From ice cream vendors, to climate activists mothers to care home workers, the people Barnet Post has spoken to come from many different walks of life but they have all had one thing in common: a desire to see greater action taken by local government.

In the fourth and final part of this series, Barnet Post put some of their questions and demands raised by other interviewees to members of Barnet Council’s ruling Labour group:   Councillor Anne Clarke (Cricklewood), who is also the Greater London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden and her fellow Cricklewood ward councillor Alan Schneiderman, who is the council’s cabinet member for environment and climate change.  

To start with, Barnet Post asked: Why has the ULEZ expansion been met with such controversy?

Cllr Clarke: “I think there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the number of people impacted. Some people think they are going to get charged everyday to use whatever car they have, some people think it’s every time you drive your car you get charged. Some Conservative leaflets I’ve seen say it’s a tax on drivers. The perception of it is sometimes different to what it is.”

“90% of all cars seen in the expanded zone are ULEZ compliant, it’s not a tax on drivers but a highly targeted charge on those with the most polluting vehicles. Not cleaning up the air is a tax on everyone because of the cost to the NHS.”

Are you confident that ULEZ is going to effectively tackle bad air quality in Barnet?

Cllr Schneiderman: “London has illegally toxic air, therefore if you’re disincentivising the most polluting cars from being on the roads, it’s going to have an undoubtedly positive impact on air quality.” 

“The data from central London ULEZ was clear – people say that the data looks good because it was expanded during the pandemic, but actually the data continues to look better to this day.”

Barnet Post has spoken to some residents who don’t think the ULEZ expansion actually goes far enough – do you agree with this sentiment?

Cllr Schneiderman: “I think the ULEZ expansion is strict enough, and I don’t see how it could reasonably be any stricter. It’s important to remember that we’re not advocating for people to give up driving, just for the most polluting vehicles to be taken off the roads.

“The thing to stress is that ULEZ alone is not enough to improve air quality, it must happen in conjunction with other changes.”

Conservative councillor David Longstaff is against the ULEZ expansion, however, he said  he would be more likely to support the scheme if the charge a driver faced was in proportion to the emissions given off by their car. Is this a system you would favour over the current system?

Cllr Schneiderman: “There’s a couple of things to say in relation to that. First of all, the current ULEZ scheme is based upon emissions: if you’ve got a compliant vehicle, you don’t need to pay it – and if you don’t, you do.”

“The other thing is that the Longterm Transport Strategy, which the previous Conservative administration published in 2020… actually included an action to lobby for the extension of the ULEZ to the borough boundary. So it’s a bit surprising that there are now Conservative councillors who have changed their mind on this, because they were previously lobbying for the extension.”

Cllr Clarke: “I wouldn’t be against it, so long as it deterred the highest polluting vehicles… One of the earlier suggestions was doing a ‘road user charge’, where you pay for miles and the type of vehicles you used. However, the GLA thought that the technology just wasn’t there yet.”

What would you say in response to the accusation that the ULEZ expansion is a ‘money making scheme’

Cllr Clarke: “By around year six the scheme won’t be taking in much money as vehicles become more compliant… but what [TFL] is doing is improving transport routes in outer London while ULEZ is bringing in money. 

“That’s one of the deliverables of the scheme – all the money they take in from ULEZ does go to improving public transportation, and almost all of that will be in outer London.

“Part of the problem is though, and this is a political point, is that London doesn’t receive a regular transport grant. So TFL doesn’t actually get any money from central government*. I think actually what TFL would love to do is make transport as good in outer London as it is in central London and without long-term investment it’s really difficult.”

How is it justifiable to impose restrictions on motor vehicles when public transport in the outer boroughs is not as good as in inner boroughs?

Cllr Schneiderman: “Improvements to public transport in Barnet are imminent and there are some measures that are coming in relatively soon. For example, the two new ‘Superloop’ routes which will be running throughout the borough.

“We understand that often people are reluctant to walk or cycle due to safety reasons, therefore we are making walking and cycling easier and safer, by introducing a network of cycle lanes on quieter roads.”

When Barnet Post asked Cllr Schneiderman how long it would take to build this network, he replied: “we are starting from a low base and we recognise that we have a long way to go on that” but informed me that the cycle paths are being built in “stages”. 

How is the council supporting the poorest motorists in Barnet?

Cllr Clarke: “By and large, the poorest members of Barnet don’t have a car. Those on low wages who do have highly polluting vehicles, their options are to look at options surrounding scrappage, and look at where they can take public transport.” 

“The ULEZ scrappage scheme offers some flexibility – if you wanted to scrap your car, instead of taking £2000 or whatever level of scrappage you are entitled to, you can instead take travel vouchers.

“There are some people [for whom] this is really, really hard. There is no denying it. But, driving in London is expensive – petrol, MOT, parking and insurance are expensive… ultimately, £12.50 is a deterrent, ULEZ isn’t to make money, it’s to put people off driving [polluting vehicles]. If the cost was a pound a day, people would keep driving.”

“It is important to emphasise that at the same time when we have a cost of living crisis, we also have an air quality crisis and it’s dreadful that these things exist at all and it’s dreadful that they exist together.”

What else can London Mayor Sadiq Khan do to help affected motorists afford a ULEZ compliant car?

Cllr Clarke: “More scrappage would be great. I think at this point they’ll get into City Hall reserve and they can’t do anymore of that – he’s put in a total of £190million with this scrappage and the last one and more than that is going to have to come from central government, which would be helpful if they want to clean up the air pollution.  

“The government is helping other cities (Bath, Bristol and Manchester) with rolling out similar schemes to ULEZ, so I don’t know why they can’t help London.”

“In terms of what the mayor has done though, I think this is now a very fair offer to Londoners – anybody can qualify for the £2000 if you don’t have a compliant vehicle, there’s more money for small businesses, there’s more money for vans, sole traders, disabled people… but the point of ULEZ is not to buy everyone a new vehicle, it’s to deter cars from being on the road.”

“I would love to see more scrappage money coming in, but I think the government should dip into some of this too.”

This is the fourth and final 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, the second part on the views of local pro-ULEZ campaigners is published here and the third part on the perspectives of local businesses is published here.

*Editor’s note – it is likely that this reference to TfL not receiving money from central government refers to a lack of regular, ongoing funding for the service. TfL did receive significant funding from central government to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most recently a £1.2Billion grant provided in August 2022 which runs until March 2024. 

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