Cllr Eleanor Cox is a councillor in Merton. She was a professional athlete, ranked the top British junior women’s singles badminton player
Staring out of the window my mind racing with dreams. I was going to be World Badminton Champion one day. I was 12 and the window I was staring out of was the car window of our Toyota diesel car. We were a low-income family doing our daily drive to the badminton club to complete my training so I could pursue my ambition. As the top British junior, it wasn’t an unrealistic aspiration.
This is how all dreams begin; talent paired with opportunity, inspiration, drive, and hard work. And at the heart of it all? Well, it’s often a car. Mobility is a key enabler of success and participation in sport. The best tournaments and training are frequently all over the country and require a car to reach them.
Easily accessible transport is essential to sports training. To be successful, even as a youngster, takes hours of commitment per day and the ability to travel to the best training you can. Great sports facilities aren’t all reachable by tube, train or bicycle – you need a car to get to them. Not just for all of the sports kit and packed lunches, but also because the best training is often outside of London and in less accessible locations. Large sports centres that are nurturing talent aren’t usually based by a tube or train station.
The astounding victory of Chloe Kelly and Lotte Wubben-May, our London born England Lionesses, in the UEFA women’s Euro 2022 Championships shows how important easily available transport can be to success. Our sports stars of the future need their rights to equal opportunity of mode of transport protected and I advocate that enabling access to cars is an essential part of that. With TfL reporting that 29 per cent of all car trips in London are made for leisure purposes, the evidence appears to agree that cars play an important role in enabling access to leisure activities.
Sports stars play a significant role in inspiring people to take part in sports, whether recreationally to improve health and wellbeing or to pursue dreams as a professional player. The NHS describes the benefits of exercise as, “the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for” endorsing the benefits it can play in reducing major illnesses such as coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer – and even by lowering your chances of an early death by up to 30 per cent. The Office for Health Improvement & Disparities estimates that just 44.4 per cent of children and young people in London are active and in more economically challenged areas of London such as Tower Hamlets this rate falls to just 22.7 per cent. These levels of activity are down compared to pre-pandemic levels and Sadiq Khan should be focusing his efforts on increasing access to sport rather than making it more challenging for people.
It is widely accepted across all political parties that the Ultra Low Emission Zone will hit our poorest families hardest because many will not be able to afford to change or drive their cars due to the astonishingly high and sudden £12.50 a day ULEZ tax proposed to be implemented across the whole of London. So, what happens to all the talent and dreams of London youngsters from low-income families who rely on non-compliant ULEZ cars to fulfil their sporting dreams? Sadiq Khan draws a blank because he either doesn’t care or doesn’t know what it takes to be successful in sport.
The London-wide ULEZ Integrated Impact Assessment concluded that the environmental effects of expanding ULEZ out would reduce the NO2 levels across London by just one per cent and would take 20,000 to 40,000 cars off the road. There are many other schemes that Sadiq Khan could consider that would have a bigger benefit in cleaning our air without unfairly penalising low-income families. As an alternative, he could commit to a fully electric bus fleet. Currently, only 4.4 per cent of the London bus fleet is electric, if London had a fully electric bus fleet the reduction in emissions would be equivalent to a total reduction of 20 per cent which is the same as taking one million cars off the road. There really is no excuse for Sadiq Khan’s introduction of ULEZ to the whole of London when there are other more environmentally beneficial routes to improving Greater London’s air quality.
2022 is already a financially challenging year for many people, in particular our low-income families. All households are facing large rises in energy, fuel, and food costs, with inflation currently at 10.1 per cent – and a significant number of people are facing ‘mortgage misery’ with their household mortgage rates rising to reflect the higher Bank of England base rate currently at 1.75 per cent. Yet Sadiq Khan plans to extend to people’s financial woes by introducing a £12.50 a day charge which will cost families who drive non-compliant cars every day an additional £4,500 per year. If you are wondering, how our London Mayor will finance the set-up of a greater ULEZ zone, this will be through a further cost of £200 million payable by taxpayers and farepayers. Whilst the Mayor has promised ‘the biggest car scrappage scheme feasible’ he has not yet found any funding to finance this. ULEZ is quite simply a poorly thought-out stealth tax on the people of London.
Many sport stars rise from adversity and they need their choice of mobility and freedoms protected so that they can choose to travel by car without incurring large fees. We also need to ensure that all adults and children who rely on non-compliant cars to exercise are able to continue to do so. The great football Lionesses are watching and I’m sure they would also join me in saying ‘say no to ULEZ’ to protect the ability of our youngsters to train freely without the economic barriers and costs that ULEZ poses to many of our London-based sporting talent and future stars.