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  • Writer's picturePeter Fortune AM

Struggling drivers will pay the price unless Sadiq’s expansion of London’s emission zone is delayed

Thousands of struggling Londoners are going to wake up to an eye-watering driving bill on Monday if Sadiq Khan presses ahead with his Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion. They’ve had no chance to recover from the pandemic, let alone prepare for the charge. And the mayor has offered little to no help for those who can least afford it.

We must clean up London’s air quality – but we can’t do it on the backs of the poorest in London. Sadly, that’s exactly what the ULEZ charge will do if the mayor expands it up to the North and South Circulars.

More than 140,000 Londoners will be hit every day by the charge, with few escaping the colossal zone, which is 18 times the size of the existing congestion charge area. These motorists aren’t petrol-guzzling Top Gear fans – they’re tradesmen, care workers and NHS staff who rely on their vehicles and can’t afford a newer model.

For all the mayor’s claims, low-income and disabled Londoners have received little help to switch vehicles ahead of expansion. Only a third of applicants have received a pay-out and fewer than 1,000 drivers can still receive a scrappage grant because the scheme’s funding is running dry.

Thousands more are not even eligible to receive help from the mayor. The scrappage scheme only offers help to Londoners receiving certain benefits, excluding working Londoners on low incomes. Khan may have invested £61million in scrappage schemes in total – but less than £2million is left and thousands of Londoners have been left behind.

Sole traders and small businesses have been forgotten entirely by the mayor. Since last summer, no help has been offered to them after the scrappage scheme for vans and heavy vehicles ran out of cash. Despite these businesses being the backbone of London’s economy and the hardship they faced during the pandemic, the mayor has so far refused to fund the reopening of the schemes.

As a consequence, Transport for London estimates that 35,000 dirty vans and 3,000 polluting lorries are still driving on London’s roads. That’s on top of the 100,000 non-compliant cars owned by Londoners who can’t afford to switch vehicles.

The prospect of getting these vehicles off the road without bankrupting businesses or squeezing the poorest is nil. It’s only been three months since Covid restrictions ended, meaning few in London have had a chance to recover from the pandemic. With no help available, it’s absurd to think our city is prepared for ULEZ expansion.

The Mayor must delay the ULEZ expansion until at least next year and invest £50million in scrappage schemes using City Hall’s business rate reserve. This will give London time to recover and prepare for the ULEZ charge, helping people and small businesses scrap their older vehicles and avoid the charge.

Pushing the expansion back needn’t delay the air quality benefits. ULEZ expansion will still be around the corner and Londoners will use the extra time to prepare and switch to cleaner vehicles. Investing in scrappage schemes will speed up the removal of polluting cars, vans and heavy vehicles. The extra funding would also allow City Hall to offer help to Londoners earning less than £30,000 who are excluded from the existing schemes.

City Hall can afford to help Londoners prepare for ULEZ, whether it’s through extra time or bigger scrappage schemes. Cleaning up London’s air doesn't need to be done on the backs of the poorest in our city. But if the mayor ploughs on regardless of Londoners’ concerns on Monday, he will be hitting those who can least afford it.

Article by Peter Fortune AM first published by the Daily Mail.


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