London Mayor Sadiq Khan's ULEZ expansion in High Court challenge

Sadiq Khan’s hated ULEZ expansion is brought to court today: Five Tory-led councils bring High Court challenge against London Mayor’s ‘unlawful’ plan to extend capital’s ultra-low emission zone that could see drivers charged £12.50 per day

  • Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey began legal action in February 
  • £12.50-a-day Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) set to be expanded on August 29 

A High Court challenge by five Conservative-led councils against London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) will be heard today.

The outer London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon along with Surrey County Council began legal action in February over the proposed extension.

A High Court judge gave the councils the go ahead to bring the challenge in April, saying parts of the local authorities’ challenge were ‘arguable’. Now, a hearing will start at 10am today before Mr Justice Swift, who will give his ruling at a later date.

Mr Khan’s Ulez has proven hugely controversial amid claims it does little to improve air quality and has a negative impact on families and tradespeople who need cars.

The scheme was initially launched in April 2019 when it covered the same area as the Congestion Charge zone in Central London – before being expanded two years later in October 2021 to cover the area within the North and South Circular roads.

Mr Khan now plans to expand the Ulez on August 29 to cover all of Greater London, with new borders reaching Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey. 

Signage indicates the boundary of Ulez beside the South Circular Road in London last week 

Sadiq Khan, pictured at the State of London debate at The O2 in North Greenwich last week

If it goes ahead on that date, Ulez will see all drivers in all parts of London pay a £12.50 daily fee if their vehicles do not meet the required emissions standards.

READ MORE Brits on holiday in Europe could be hit with fines of up to £1,500 from ULEZ-style zones across the continent this summer 

The Labour mayor, re-elected to a second term in 2021, ordered the move last November despite a public consultation suggesting most Londoners oppose it.

Councils involved in the legal challenge believe ‘relevant statutory requirements’ were not complied with, expected compliance rates in outer London were not considered and the proposed scrappage scheme was not consulted on.

They also claimed the overall consultation process was not properly conducted and that there was a failure to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the plan.

The High Court has allowed the case to proceed on two grounds – the legal basis for the scheme and scrappage.

The extension has prompted a fierce backlash from many living in and around the newly encompassed areas, who face fines of up to £160 for each day they fail to pay.

‘It ain’t right. They’re hitting working class people again,’ Chris Fordham, 62, told AFP as he pulled up at a supermarket just beyond South East London in his non-compliant 2012 diesel van.

‘I’m thinking about packing up work,’ added the self-employed builder, who crosses into the capital almost daily, blaming the imminent new charge and other soaring costs. 

Activists hold banners at a demonstration against Ulez in London’s Marble Arch on June 25

People demonstrate against the expansion of Ulez at Marble Arch in London on June 25

Carl Cristina, 44, a tree surgeon, attends a Ulez protest at London’s Marble Arch on June 25

Mr Khan insists the bigger Ulez will help improve the city’s ‘toxic air pollution’, which causes thousands of annual deaths and life-changing illnesses.

READ MORE Sadiq Khan is brutally heckled by Londoners over his hated ULEZ expansion plans and told to ‘stop lying’ about the real reason behind the tax on motorists – as he is rapped by watchdog on data transparency 

The 52-year-old mayor developed adult-onset asthma nine years ago and blames it on decades of breathing the capital’s poor air.

In a legal first in 2021, a coroner ruled that poor air quality from vehicle emissions made a ‘material contribution’ to the death of a nine-year-old London girl who suffered a severe asthma attack.

London’s Ulez mirrors similar low-emission zones to improve air quality in more than 200 cities in 10 countries across Europe.

Mr Khan’s office insists it has improved air quality by cutting harmful emissions.

Petrol cars registered pre-2006 and diesel vehicles first registered before September 2015 are unlikely to meet the minimum emissions standards required.

Transport for London (TfL) estimates that fewer than 200,000 such vehicles currently enter the new zone, based on existing Ulez camera analysis.

But the RAC motoring group used a freedom of information request to discover that more than 850,000 ineligible vehicles are registered within London alone.

Mr Khan argues that many of those are not actually driven in the capital.

He has launched a scrappage scheme providing some funding to eligible vehicle owners. But critics say it does not go far enough. 

With Britain gripped by the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, many affected have been left feeling helpless.

Protesters gather for a demonstration against the Ulez expansion on London Bridge on May 27

Protesters demonstrate against the expansion of Ulez on Whitehall in London on March 18

Another protest against the Ulez expansion at London’s Trafalgar Square on February 25

‘It’s the wrong time with the cost of living,’ said pregnant mother-of-one Sarah Farmer, who lives in Swanley.

READ MORE So much for the health boost from ULEZ? Research finds no ‘clear’ proof controversial zones slash rates of lung conditions

The 31-year-old regularly crosses into the capital in her 2003 Ford Mondeo for her cleaning job and to visit relatives.

To compound problems, her partner’s 2014 diesel van used for his bricklaying job is not compliant either.

‘We don’t have the savings to buy a new car,’ Ms Farmer explained. ‘I’m not actually against it,’ she added of the Ulez, ‘but they need to give people more help.’

Some are escalating their opposition, with TfL confirming that more than 200 enforcement cameras have suffered sabotaged.

London’s Metropolitan Police have launched a ‘proactive operation’ in response, charging two men in May with criminal damage and other offences.

‘We have been proactively targeting those we suspect of causing or seeking to cause damage,’ said Detective Superintendent Daniel Smith, whose officers are leading the investigation.

‘We are aware of the active discussions online and the passion felt by some in our communities. We will continue to support lawful protest but criminal activity is not acceptable.’

Meanwhile, critics have been staging anti-Ulez protests, the latest in central London late last month.

Phil Elliott, 59, a haulage industry driver who has long campaigned against aspects of London’s road-charging schemes, has been spearheading opposition, largely through Facebook.

An anti-Ulez heckler shouts at Sadiq Khan at the State of London debate at The O2 on June 29

He told AFP the new toll is the final straw for many and predicts growing civil disobedience in Britain, emulating the so-called yellow jackets protests seen in France.

READ MORE Ulez expansion will force two in five Londoners to change or give up their car – and millennials and men will be the most likely to have to change their vehicle

‘Desperate times take desperate measures and unfortunately what you’ve got (is) people are getting desperate now and governments aren’t listening,’ Mr Elliott said. ‘Before it gets too messy, people need to start listening.’

Last week, Mr Khan was told to ‘stop lying’ by a heckler as he sought to defend his Ulez expansion plans.

The Labour politician sought to defend his flagship clean air policy at LBC’s State of London debate at The 02 on June 29 after heavy criticism for lumbering hard-pressed families and businesses with extra costs.

It came as the Mayor was criticised for a lack of ‘transparency’ after he claimed 90 per cent of cars would escape paying any charges under the scheme.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) told the Mayor to provide more details to back up his statement, adding that it was part of a pattern where TfL made public claims without publishing supporting evidence.

In March, Mr Khan claimed that ‘anti-vaxxers, Covid deniers, conspiracy theorists and Nazis’ had joined ‘decent Tories’ in opposing the Ulez expansion.

He also branded some Ulez opponents ‘far-Right’ at a public meeting in Ealing, west London, earlier that month.

Mr Khan’s comments at the time sparked outrage, with Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands calling for him to be voted out in the next election.

Hecklers shouted down Mayor Khan at a public meeting in Ealing, west London, on March 2 after he branded some Ulez opponents ‘far-Right’ and ‘Covid deniers’

After the High Court allowed the case to proceed in April, a spokesman for the mayor said at the time: ‘The mayor is pleased to see the court has refused permission for the majority of the grounds.

‘We will continue to robustly defend his life-saving decision to expand the Ulez and continue with preparations without delay.

‘It is a shame that some local authorities have chosen to attempt this costly and misguided legal challenge instead of focusing on the health of those they represent.

‘Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely every year due to air pollution.

‘This is a health emergency and the mayor is not prepared to stand by and do nothing while Londoners are growing up with stunted lungs and are more at risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia due to our toxic air.’

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