'It's not about air quality, it's about raising money!': Transport secretary slams Sadiq Khan's divisive Ulez expansion

29 August 2023, 05:29 | Updated: 29 August 2023, 11:00

Transport Secretary Mark Harper (archive image) slammed Sadiq Khan's controversial Ulez expansion
Transport Secretary Mark Harper (archive image) slammed Sadiq Khan's controversial Ulez expansion. Picture: Getty/LBC/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Transport secretary Mark Harper has slammed Sadiq Khan's controversial Ulez expansion, labelling it a cash grab from "hard-pressed Londoners".

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From today, drivers entering any part of the capital will need to pay £12.50 Ulez charge every day if their car does not meet emission standards.

The Mayor of London insists it is needed to clean up the city's air and avoid premature deaths but critics say it clobbers motorists who already face hefty costs.

That includes Mr Harper, who said the government has "carefully" looked at blocking the expansion but conceded it was a decision for Mr Khan.

"I don't have the powers to block it, this is a decision for the Mayor of London," Mr Harper told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

“[Mr Khan] says he’s doing air quality reasons but if you look at his own impact assessment, it makes it clear it will only have a minor to negligible effect on air quality.

“It’s not about air quality, it’s about raising money from hard-pressed Londoners and that is why we don’t support it. But we don’t have the power to block it."

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Transport Secretary Mark Harper | 28/08/23

Meanwhile six out of seven counties neighbouring London have refused to put up Ulez warning signs, despite Sadiq Khan's controversial scheme expanding to cover all of London from today.

That includes Kent, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, and Thurrock. Only Slough has reached an agreement with TfL.

Mr Harper said this was their decision, despite the fact that it may mean some drivers are unaware they are about to enter the Ulez.

Drivers who do not pay the £12.50 fee will be sent a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

Khan has ploughed on with Ulez's expansion
Khan has ploughed on with Ulez's expansion. Picture: Alamy

Speaking as Ulez rolled out across the city, Mr Khan said: "This is a landmark day for our city which will lead to a greener, healthier London for everyone. The decision to expand the ULEZ London-wide was a difficult one, but necessary to save lives, protect children’s lungs and help prevent asthma, dementia and other health issues.

"All the evidence shows that it’s clean air zones like ULEZ that are the game-changer in a city like London when it comes to cutting toxic air quickly and meaningfully to protect people's health. It’s thanks to the ULEZ that we are now set to get London's air to within legal limits in the next couple of years, 184 years earlier than previously projected."

It has also triggered a fight within Labour, as Sir Keir Starmer warned against imposing environmental policies that hit the worst-off in the wake of a by-election defeat to the Tories.

Rishi Sunak's party managed to cling onto Boris Johnson's old seat of Uxbridge and Ruislip despite a nationwide swing away from the Conservatives after they turned that campaign into a referendum on Ulez.

Read more: 'It's an expense too many': Labour shadow minister attacks Ulez the day before expansion comes into force

And on Tuesday, Labour's shadow minister for employment rights said it would be an "expense too many" given the cost of living crisis.

"I think he probably needs to be listening to some of the callers you've been having on and how it's affecting them, and think about whether this really is the right time to be going ahead with it," Justin Madders told LBC.

"We know there’s a massive cost of living crisis at the moment, and asking people to shell out thousands to buy new vehicles or pay £12.50 every day is just an expense too many at this time."

The Ulez scheme uses cameras to detect the number plates of cars and sends drivers a charge if their vehicle doesn't meet its requirements.

It previously only covered all areas within the North and South Circular Roads, but will now cover areas in outer London, such as Kingston upon Thames, Croydon and Barnet.

Read more: Khan's next Ulez? London mayor 'mulls pay-per-mile road tax' using emission zone cameras

Ulez is expanding to cover all of London
Ulez is expanding to cover all of London. Picture: Alamy

Khan has argued it is necessary for health and written off his critics as conspiracy theorists.

"I didn't expect for there to be people linking my policies to cleaning up the air with conspiracy theories," he told LBC previously.

"I did expect people to have genuine concerns, and I have been listening to those genuine concerns."

Opponents are furious with the expansion
Opponents are furious with the expansion. Picture: Alamy

He has earmarked tens of millions to help expand a scrappage scheme that will allow Londoners, charities and businesses to put money towards a new car if theirs isn't compliant.

The mayor's office said: "There have already been more than 15,000 applications received since 21 August, and nearly £6m of new funds committed to Londoners. The number of scrappage applications for cars and motorcycles since 21 August is up more than 1,000 per cent on the previous week."

More than 14,000 applications have been approved as £60m was committed to help scrappages.

Everyone in the capital whose car does not meet emissions standards will be eligible for a £2,000 grant from August 21.

Small businesses and sole traders will be able to claim up to £21,000 to scrap as many as three vans and get them replaced.

The scheme has been expanded to cover all of London
The scheme has been expanded to cover all of London. Picture: Alamy

Charities can get up to £27,000 to scrap three minibuses as City Hall hailed "the most generous scrappage scheme ever seen in the UK".

But despite mounting opposition, including opponents who have gone out to rip down cameras and neighbouring Tory councils who refuse to allow Ulez signs to be put up in their areas, Khan has ploughed on.

Cameras have even needed to be armoured up to stop them being damaged.

A total of 288 crimes related to Ulez cameras have been recorded by the Met, including 185 instances of cables being damaged, 164 cameras being stolen and 38 reports of the devices getting obscured.

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