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Emily Carver is a broadcaster and commentator.
Sadiq Khan likes to present his political ideas in terms of their positive impact on London’s least well-off. One example is his apparent obsession with demanding the power to impose rent controls on London’s private rental market.
Putting aside the economic illiteracy of the policy, the use of emotive language about the rising cost-of-living and people losing their homes due to skyrocketing rents would suggest he is a man who cares about helping those who are struggling to get by.
It’s rather puzzling, then, that the mayor appears so hell-bent on stealing from Londoners’ pockets, directly adding to their everyday expenses, and making their businesses less viable.
Of course, I am talking about the Mayor’s plans to expand the already questionable Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to all London boroughs, including Greater London.
Come August, anyone who drives a ‘non-compliant’ vehicle will essentially be taxed (or fined) £12.50 every time they take the wheel, with only very few exceptions for those receiving certain low-income or disability benefits. As many have pointed out, the cost could easily reach £3,000 a year for those regularly driving within the capital.
What started as a scheme to combat pollution in central London has, like many a public health initiative, snowballed. When it was originally introduced in 2019, it covered the congestion charge area, then it expanded in 2021 to cover so-called inner London, up to the boundaries of the North and South Circular, before the goalposts shifted once again to swallow up the entirety of Greater London.
Unfortunately for Khan, the rebellion against his policy is also growing apace. Up till now, he’s shown little interest in hearing the opinions of those who dare disagree with him. Little does he care that when the public were consulted, 75 per cent of outer London residents opposed the expansion plans.
Instead, he continues to insist that the policy is a virtuous one that will not only help to reduce air pollution but also related deaths and congestion, and save the planet from the “climate emergency” too.
It is true that the latest report he has commissioned into the matter finds that harmful pollutant emissions have reduced by 26 per cent since the ULEZ area expanded in 2021, compared with what they would have been without ULEZ coming into force.
If we take this at face value, it would appear the scheme has been a roaring success. But whether this change can be entirely attributed to ULEZ is impossible to say when air pollution has already been steadily decreasing since the 1970s.
In any case, clamping down in central London is a very different proposition than imposing the same scheme across the entirety of greater London, where people rely heavily on their vehicles and hundreds of thousands of people own non-compliant cars and vans. It also sticks in the craw when the Mayor himself has been spotted more than a few times travelling London in a diesel-guzzling car.
But Khan knows the case for the expansion is weak, which is why he has been so creative with his data.
As the Daily Telegraph reported recently, he has chosen, based on a report by Imperial College London, to single out Bromley as having the highest number of premature deaths linked to air pollution.
But what he conveniently fails to mention is the fact Bromley not only has a disproportionately high number of older residents (so they are more likely to die of any cause), but it currently also has the cleanest air pollution of all the London boroughs, including all those currently within the existing emissions scheme.
As Colin Smith, the leader of Bromley Council, has pointed out, his methodology is “pointless” and the policy amounts to little more than a “cash grab”.
Everyone knows how much in need of cash Khan is, and with Transport for London’s finances in a state of disarray, ULEZ is a money-spinner. Last year, it raised £225.7 million; Transport for London claims that this will rise to as much as £400m a year.
This helps explain why TfL is taking such an aggressive approach in response to the growing backlash.
Local people are demonstrating and councils mobilising. Kent, Surrey, Buckingham, Essex and Hertfordshire are all refusing to cooperate with Khan’s grand plan, pledging to block the installation of any ULEZ cameras or signs warning drivers they are entering the zone, and even London Labour MPs are coming out against the policy.
Yet TfL are insisting they have the power to go ahead and install the near 3,000 CCTV cameras needed to enforce the zone, with or without permission from the relevant London borough councils. It really could not look more like an undemocratic power grab if the Mayor tried.
And, with a huge network of ULEZ cameras ready to catch you at every wrong turn, Khan could further boost the coffers by introducing road pricing at a flick of a switch.
Considering this all, it would appear the only hope is that enough opposition mobilises to make it so politically toxic that the Mayor has to swallow his pride and, at the very least, delay the implementation.
What we do know for sure is that Khan clearly doesn’t like listening. Anyone who’s seen or heard him dodge and obfuscate at the London Assembly will know he doesn’t like to be contradicted.
But something else we know is that he has big political ambitions. So, with three prominent London Labour MPs coming out against the policy this week, could we be at a tipping point? And with so many Tory MPs on the side of the majority, could a win on this signal a step change for the Conservatives?
If all else fails, perhaps a deeper reconsideration of the whole London mayoralty may be in order.