London-wide emission zone expansion criticisedOpposition Conservatives play down need to reduce air pollution
Barnet’s opposition Conservative group has criticised plans by Sadiq Khan to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) to cover the whole of London.
Tory leader Dan Thomas accused the London mayor of using air quality as an “excuse” to raise extra cash from Barnet’s drivers and called for a “measured approach” to cutting pollution.
But a spokesperson for the mayor said Khan would not ask Londoners to pay more unless he was convinced the Ulez expansion was justified to reduce pollution, with toxic air causing nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year in the capital.
The row follows the launch of a consultation on the proposed expansion, which would mean drivers whose vehicles fail to meet strict emissions standards face a daily charge of £12.50 to drive within the Greater London Authority boundary from August next year.
A further proposal set out in the consultation includes the introduction of a new system of road-user charging that could take the form of a pay-per-mile charge.
According to a report to Barnet Council’s environment committee on 9th June, there has been a “general improvement in air quality across the borough over the past seven years”, with the national Covid-19 lockdown contributing to recent improvements.
The report said nitrogen dioxide levels at two monitoring sites complied with the annual mean air quality objective, while levels of another pollutant, PM10, met both the annual and daily mean objectives.
Cllr Thomas said: “Barnet’s air quality is good, nitrogen dioxide levels are well within national limits and air pollution is falling. We can always make improvements, but we don’t need drastic measures that will cost more to drive to work. Barnet Conservatives are opposed to Ulez expansion and pay-per-mile.
“Sadiq Khan’s budgets are in a mess. He is using air quality as an excuse to raise extra cash from Barnet drivers.
“We are calling for a measured approach to improve air quality, such as continuing our policy to increase ownership of electric cars. We also need Sadiq Khan to reduce congestion by improving problem road junctions such as Mill Hill Circus.”
The Ulez expansion also aims to cut other pollutants including particulate matter, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide. A report published with the consultation states that all Londoners live in areas exceeding World Health Organization guidelines for PM2.5, which is a fine particulate matter produced by road traffic that has been linked to heart and lung diseases.
It adds that 82% of vehicles in outer London already meet Ulez standards and proposes a vehicle scrappage scheme to help those on low incomes comply with the measures.
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “Expanding the Ulez is vital to protect Londoners’ health. Toxic air caused by traffic is still leading to children growing up with stunted lungs and nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year, with the greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution in London’s outer boroughs, which the Ulez doesn’t currently cover. There has also been a slower rate of improvement in air quality in outer London than in central and inner London.
“When weighing up the different options, the rising cost of living was a key consideration. With Londoners’ budgets under pressure, the mayor would not ask Londoners to pay more unless he was convinced it is justified to reduce pollution, save lives and protect health.
“TfL [Transport for London] is now carrying out a major consultation on proposals for further expansion of the Ulez so that they can be implemented in August 2023.”
During this month’s environment committee meeting, Labour chair Alan Schneiderman was asked to give an indication of Barnet Council’s response to the Ulez consultation.
He told the meeting he expected the response would recognise the impact that the existing zone had on improving air quality, that it had divided Barnet in two, and that it would be “essential” to introduce a substantial scrappage scheme to support charities and families on low incomes. Cllr Schneiderman also said the government needed to provide funding for the scrappage scheme.
When asked if the administration was in favour of the expansion, he pointed out that Barnet’s long-term transport strategy, adopted under the previous Conservative administration, contained a proposal to lobby TfL for Ulez to be expanded to the borough boundary.
The Ulez consultation closes on 29th July. More details are available at: tfl.gov.uk/clean-air