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London-wide ULEZ expansion gets the green light

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The ULEZ expansion across all London boroughs will go ahead next month, after the High Court ruled in favour of Mayor Sadiq Khan following a legal challenge brought by a handful of councils.

The London Borough of Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Surrey County Council launched a legal challenge against the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone across the whole capital after Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement in November 2022.

It confirmed that from 29 August 2023, drivers of non-compliant vehicles entering the expanded zone outward of the North and South Circular roads to the boundaries of greater London would be hit with a £12.50 daily charge.

The Mayor of London said the move was a bid to tackle air pollution, but criticism mounted around the expansion, particularly in light of the current cost-of-living crisis.

The councils launched a legal challenge over whether Khan had the power to expand the scheme, whether Transport for London conducted an unlawful exercise relating to the consultation and estimates of the proportion of vehicles likely to comply with ULEZ emission requirements, and they also took aim at the £110m grant for a new London Vehicle Scrappage Scheme.

However, Mr Justice Swift, said: “The Mayor’s decision… is consistent with his powers… and does not give rise to breach of any obligation imposed under that schedule”.

On the second ground of the councils’ challenge of whether there was sufficient and/or sufficiently clear information provided for the purposes of the consultation exercise, Justice Swift found the councils’ challenge fails.

And on the third ground of whether the Mayor’s decision on the grant payment was lawful, Justice Swift dismissed this challenge, saying it had also failed.

‘Get on with cleaning London’s air’

The Mayor said the estimated cost of bringing the challenge stands at more than £1m which is the “equivalent of more than 350,000 free school meals for children in the capital”.

He added that from next week, he will expand the scrappage scheme to nearly a million families who receive child benefit and all small businesses with up to fifty employees.

Khan said: “This landmark decision is good news as it means we can proceed with cleaning up the air in outer London on 29 August.

“The decision to expand the ULEZ was very difficult and not something I took lightly and I continue to do everything possible to address any concerns Londoners may have.

“The ULEZ has already reduced toxic nitrogen dioxide air pollution by nearly half in central London and a fifth in inner London. The coming expansion will see five million more Londoners being able to breathe cleaner air.

“Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already compliant so won’t pay a penny – yet will still see the benefits of cleaner air.”

‘I can only say sorry’

Cllr Colin Smith, leader of Bromley Council, said: “Today’s decision cannot be disguised as anything other than bitter disappointment for motorists in general, traders who will now have to consider ceasing business and laying off staff, those who will now have to change jobs and, most desperately of all, people who will no longer be able to support vital care networks for vulnerable people across the whole of outer London in particular.

“To all of them as well as the legion of families who will now have to trade in perfectly good cars at significant cost they can’t really afford, for a newer vehicle they don’t want or need, I can only say sorry. We’ve tried our very hardest to protect you but ultimately, today’s judgment does mean that the Mayor has taken another step closer to getting his way.”

Cllr Ian Edwards, leader of Hillingdon Council, said: “We will continue our fight on behalf of our residents and business through Parliament and at next year’s Mayoral election.”

Related: London-wide ULEZ expansion will price out third of drivers