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'He has no choice': Keir Starmer backs London mayor Sadiq Khan over controversial Ulez scheme

7 July 2023, 09:44 | Updated: 7 July 2023, 10:20

Sir Keir Starmer said Sadiq Khan has no legal choice but to tackle air pollution
Sir Keir Starmer said Sadiq Khan has no legal choice but to tackle air pollution. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Sir Keir Starmer has appeared to reluctantly back Sadiq Khan's expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to cover the whole of London, pointing to the mayor's "legal obligation" to cut air pollution in the capital.

The Mayor of London announced in November that from August 29 this year, the paid-for Ulez zone will cover the whole of London.

The move has sparked fury from motorists in outer-London boroughs, with the local authorities bringing a legal challenge against the scheme.

Asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari on Friday if he backed the scheme, Labour leader Sir Keir said he didn't think there was an alternative.

"I think it is important to make clear that there is a legal obligation on the mayor to take measures in relation to air pollution," Sir Keir said. "So he doesn’t just have a free choice to decide what he does here."

Keir Starmer on Ulez: ‘I don’t think there’s an alternative…’

He added: "I accept that the mayor has no choice but to go ahead because of the legal obligation on him."

Several senior Labour figures in London, including MPs and a parliamentary candidate, have pushed for Mr Khan to delay the ULEZ rollout amid the cost of living.

The zone currently covers the area between London's North and South Circular roads.

When it is expanded, Transport for London (TfL) says around 160,000 cars and 42,000 vans that use London's roads everyday will be liable for the £12.50 fee.

A caller to the show told Sir Keir that he would never vote for Labour again if the Ulez was expanded.

Sir Keir agreed that helping people "on the money side" with dealing with the Ulez was important - and joined Mr Khan's calls for the government to give London more money for scrappage scheme for non-compliant vehicles - currently capped at £2,000.

'ULEZ expansion will disproportionately most vulnerable people in this city’ says Samuel Kasumu

It comes after the High Court was told on Tuesday that Mr Khan does not have the legal powers to expand the Ulez.

The five Tory councils challenging the expansion have questioned Mr Khan's use of data.

They include four London councils - Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon - as well as Surrey Council Council, who say there was a "lack of consultation" in expanding the zone.

Speaking the High Court, Craig Howell Williams KC, acting for the councils, argued that Mr Khan was creating a "master charging scheme" for the capital city.

Mr Khan's legal team insisted the Ulez expansion was lawful, reiterating Mr Khan's assertion that the expansion will improve air quality in London.

Read More: 'Failure would be doing nothing': Sadiq Khan heckled and applauded as he defends controversial Ulez scheme

Read More: State of London as it happened: Sadiq Khan heckled and applauded over Ulez as Mayor quizzed on transport and policing

The current borders of the Ulez mean drivers in areas in outer London, such as Bromley, Kingston-upon-Thames and Hounslow, for example, do not face the £12.50 fee.

But if the expansion is deemed lawful, the zone will expand by more than three times.

Its new borders will reach areas outside of London, including Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.

Audience member condemns the mayor for ‘making cuts to bus lanes and expand the ULEZ’

The High Court also heard this week that 90 per cent of cars in outer London already comply with Ulez cameras, but that this data was based on data from just 106 cameras.

According to Mr Williams, this data should have been included in the consultation last year.

"This is key information which was not available," he told the High Court.

Despite the legal challenge, Mr Khan has remained adamant that he will push on with expanding the Ulez, including as he was heckled at the State of London debate - hosted by LBC's James O'Brien.

"Each year, in our city, around 4,000 people die prematurely, directly, because of air pollution," Mr Khan told the Indigo2 audience on Thursday night.

"There are children in our city with stunted lungs, permanently, because of air pollution."

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