Sadiq Khan ditches plans to make combustion-fired vehicles pay to enter London after Ulez backlash

29 August 2023, 23:23 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 06:12

Sadiq Khan has expanded Ulez to cover all of London
Sadiq Khan has expanded Ulez to cover all of London but has seemingly backed down on plans to go further. Picture: Alamy

By Chay Quinn

Sadiq Khan has shelved plans to charge all combustion engines in the wake of fierce protests at Tuesday's expansion of the ultra-low emission zone across London.

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Proposals outlined in the Mayor's 2018 transport strategy for a "zero emission zone" in the heart of the capital have been dropped, the Financial Times reported.

A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office told the paper: "TfL continues to support boroughs who wish to implement zero emission zones in their local areas."

The Mayor's 2018 transport strategy had argued it may be necessary to introduce "disincentives" to phase out fossil fuel vehicles altogether, suggesting combustion-engined cars could "pay road user charges" for driving in certain areas.

Read More: TfL website crashes on morning of ULEZ expansion, leaving many London drivers waiting to see if their car is compliant

The backing-down came as durious protesters descended on Downing Street - though the government insists it cannot intervene - to vent their fury at the Ulez expansion.

Khan has ploughed on with it despite intense opposition, including from within his own party.

Earlier, LBC was told by transport secretary Mark Harper that the environmental charge's expansion was effectively a stealth tax, attacking "hard-pressed Londoners".

Khan has now hit back at Mark Harper, telling LBC's James O'Brien: "It was possible for me to do a cash grab, had I acceded to the demand from Grant Shapps... [when he was transport secretary] which was to expand the congestion charge to raise revenues for TfL.

Angry protesters voiced their anger outside Downing Street
Angry protesters voiced their anger outside Downing Street. Picture: Alamy

"I said no to that, because that would have been a cash grab. I also said no when they demanded of me that I immediately expand the Ulez before we had a scrappage scheme, before we had a consultation.

"The only reason we're expanding Ulez is because it's been shown to improve the quality of air."

All of London is now covered by the scheme, which Khan says is vital to lowering air pollution in the capital and preventing premature deaths.

Drivers will need to pay a daily £12.50 charge to drive their vehicles if they aren't compliant with Ulez.

London's Ultra Low Emission Zone Expands To All Boroughs
London's Ultra Low Emission Zone Expands To All Boroughs. Picture: Getty

Tuesday's expansion began with Transport for London's number plate checker website, which allows drivers to see if their car is compliant with Ulez, crashing on Tuesday morning.

A camera in Bromley, south London, was covered with red paint in a protest - after months of anti-Ulez activists vandalising the devices which scan the plates of cars.

And councils outside London refuse to put up Ulez signs in opposition to the scheme.

Khan has ploughed on with the Ulez expansion despite fierce opposition
Khan has ploughed on with the Ulez expansion despite fierce opposition. Picture: Alamy

Earlier on LBC, transport secretary Mark Harper 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," he 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."

Ulez has even 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.

A Ulez sign has been defaced
A Ulez sign has been defaced. Picture: Alamy

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.

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.

Khan 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.

Caller: ULEZ expansion will kill London's economy

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.

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 opposition has proved to be very heavy, with self-described "blade runners" going as far as out ripping down cameras.

On Tuesday, as the expansion kicked in, one device in Bromley was daubed in red paint while a sign was defaced.

Neighbouring Tory councils have refused to allow Ulez signs to be put up in their areas.

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.