Keir Starmer scraps plans for UK-wide Ulez rollouts after Sadiq Khan's clean air measure blamed for by-election loss

13 August 2023, 08:47 | Updated: 13 August 2023, 09:02

Labour has dropped plans for Ulez expansion
Labour has dropped plans for Ulez expansion. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Sir Keir Starmer has ditched plans to bring in Ulez-type areas across the UK, after Sadiq Khan's expansion of the London air pollution measure was blamed for a recent by-election loss.

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Labour had planned to include the measure with a statement backing the clean air zones set to be written into its policy programme.

But the statement has been axed from the latest version of the programme, the Telegraph reported.

The original draft document stated: "Labour supports the principle of clean air zones and recognises the huge damage to human health caused by air pollution and the damage to our climate caused by carbon emissions from polluting vehicles.

"However, they must be phased in carefully, mindful of the impacts on small businesses and low-paid workers, and should be accompanied with a just transition plan to enable people to switch affordably to low-emission vehicles."

Read more: Operation Eremon: Met Police launches new mission to stop anti-Ulez activists wrecking cameras

Read more: Sadiq Khan brands claims Ulez is unaffordable as ‘nonsense’ as he announces new scrappage grant

Ulez is expanding in August
Ulez is expanding in August. Picture: Alamy

But this has now been dropped from the programme, which will feed into the eventual Labour manifesto ahead of the next election.

The Ulez has been blamed for the loss of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election last month, with Sadiq Khan pressing ahead with plans to expand the zone across the whole of London at the end of August.

Sir Keir appeared less keen on Ulez in an LBC appearance in July, acknowledging the difficult position it puts drivers in, while saying that Labour mayor Mr Khan had "no choice" legally but to proceed with the expansion.

A Labour source told the Telegraph: "Clean air zones are Conservative government policy. The Tories are the ones who have pushed councils to introduce them. Labour is not in favour of extra burdens on drivers during a Tory-made cost of living crisis.

Sadiq Khan's expansion of the Ulez has proved divisive
Sadiq Khan's expansion of the Ulez has proved divisive. Picture: Alamy

"Labour’s priority is growing the economy to improve living standards and tackle the cost of living crisis, not pushing up costs for hard working families.

"We are committed to tackling air pollution and we will introduce a Clean Air Act, but we will always look at options for reducing air pollution which do not put the burden on hard working families."

Others within Labour were unhappy with the change in policy.

Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central and former shadow environment secretary, said: "I think Sadiq Khan called it right when he said we wouldn’t accept dirty water, so why accept dirty air?

"I would say it’s absolutely essential that we make those interventions that make a difference.”

She went on: "Ulez cannot be introduced without proper mitigation – we know that the cost of electric cars is prohibitive. But we’ve got to address the practical reality and that’s by putting green alternatives forward.

"We’ve got to remember it is people living in the most deprived areas that are most affected by poor air quality. This goes to an essential value of Labour and we’ve got to seriously look at this before coming to office, because the consequences of not doing so will mean people could die unnecessarily."

Ms Maskell added: "I think Labour should follow the science with this, and with that ensure that no community experiences detriment."

Sadiq Khan speaks to James about the expansion of the Ulez scrappage scheme

Ken Penton, the co-chairman of SERA – Labour’s environment campaign, said: "The Tories have passed the responsibility of complying with the legal obligation to improve air quality to local government, without providing the funds needed to compensate people for the need to change to less-polluting cars.

"The next Labour Government will have to take the action necessary to reduce exposure to toxic air that millions of people face every day.

"But we need to make sure that the cost of improving our air quality doesn’t fall disproportionately on those least able to cope."

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