'It's another nail in the coffin!': the London businesses at risk of going bust due to ULEZ expansion

2 May 2023, 07:48 | Updated: 5 May 2023, 12:25

The ULEZ will expand to cover outer London from August 29
The ULEZ will expand to cover outer London from August 29. Picture: Supplied/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A number of businesses have told LBC they face going bust due to the planned expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The expansion, which will come into effect from August 29, means the ULEZ will expand to cover outer London, rather than areas within the North and South Circular Roads.

Londoners whose cars do not meet the emissions test face being charged £12.50 for every daily journey under the new zone.

In particular, businesses offering construction services and manual labour find themselves in precarious positions.

City Hall has defended the Ulez expansion plans, saying that air pollution is a problem in ‘every single part of the capital’ with levels of the toxin nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air across 14 London boroughs exceeding UK legal limits.

One report suggests owners of diesel vans could consider switching to cargo bikes instead.

The building firm

InstaServices, a specialist building contractor company based in Surbiton, south west London, has already seen its business severely impacted by the planned expansion.

Kyle Hyams, who runs the company, said they have taken the difficult decision to replace the entire company's van fleet, since their old ones did not meet the emissions standard.

This cost the company just shy of £100,000, but Mr Hyams felt it was necessary, with around 95 per cent of the company's jobs taking place in outer London.

"We either had to have every employee pay the £12.50 charge fives times a week or replace the entire fleet," Mr Hyams told LBC.

"I can’t afford to provide all staff with vans but I’ve had to do it anyway.

"I’ve wondered whether or not we will survive. If our work slows down, we won’t survive. I’ve got huge liabilities from buying all those vehicles."

"We're now in a minus and there’s no help from scrappage scheme, which I tried to use recently but I was denied because I used it a few years ago," he added.

Read More: Sadiq Khan confirms West London Orbital rail link plans as Mayor faces Ulez expansion backlash

InstaServices staff
InstaServices staff. Picture: Instagram
InstaServices are specialist contracting builders
InstaServices are specialist contracting builders. Picture: Instagram

Cost of ULEZ-friendly cars soar

There's little doubt in Mr Hyams' mind that the cost of replacing his entire fleet was so expensive due to increasing demand for ULEZ-compliant cars, and he is not wrong.

In some cases, the cost of ULEZ-compliant cars have more than doubled.

Lewis Cooper, sales director at Approved Cars Croydon, a used car dealership, said it has stopped buying cars that are not ULEZ compliant after prices plummeted by several thousand pounds.

Meanwhile, ULEZ-friendly cars have soared in price.

Mr Cooper said: "Ford fiestas are one of the big ones, they've gone up by a few thousand pounds. The prices have gone up massively."

In Mr Hyams' case, in 2016, his company bought three Peugeot vans for £12,000 - now, one ULEZ-friendly van cost £9,000 alone.

He has tried to raise concerns with politicians, including Mr Khan himself, as well as the London Assembly and his local MP Ed Davey.

"I’ve contacted them directly but I’ve heard nothing. Sadiq Khan is so out of touch it is hard to take him seriously - people can’t afford to change all their vehicles. I can’t but I’ve had to," he added.

The family business

Paul Whiteman is in charge of his family-run business
Paul Whiteman is in charge of his family-run business. Picture: Handout

Paul Whiteman, who owns a family-run business recovering cars, faces a similar conundrum.

Living and working in Dartford, Kent, Mr Whiteman had no say in electing Mr Khan as mayor and is not eligible for help under TfL's scrappage scheme.

Nonetheless, the majority of his jobs take place in outer London, where the ULEZ does not currently apply.

"Going to London four or five times a week is going to cost me thousands of pounds a year, but I can't afford to get a new van."

Read More: Ulez expansion to be challenged at the High Court as five Tory councils clear legal hurdle

While Mr Hyams invested £100,000 in a new van fleet, Mr Whiteman said he has no other choice but to put the charge onto his customers.

"I'm going to lose business. For now, I'm going to have to get by week-by-week but I'll have to charge some customers an extra tenner every time I go into London," Mr Whiteman told LBC.

"Other businesses can then undercut me...I have no option to pay or cease trading."

Read More: No more Ulez? Sadiq Khan considers scrapping controversial scheme and replacing it with 'pay-as-you-drive' system

It's not only business owners that will be affected by the ULEZ expansion but workers too.

The NHS supplier

Gareth Allen works as a storeman for a private company that supplies to an NHS hospital in Havering, east London, for £10.90 an hour.

For years, he has been travelling from his home in South Ockendon, which is just outside of London. A lack of decent transport links means he has to drive to work.

Every month he earns £1635, but with the additional cost of travelling to work, come payday, he will be around £250 down.

Gareth Allen
Gareth Allen. Picture: Handout

There are no customers for Mr Allen to pass the charge onto and he can't afford to buy a new car - the ULEZ fee will come directly out of his pocket.

"We're just about keeping our head above water, with no help from the government," Mr Allen told LBC.

"I don't have £12.50 a day, £250 a day and £3,000 a year to pay Sadiq Khan's air tax, even if I wanted to.

"I'm being forced out of work. My employers are fully understanding regarding this, but are unable to help me too much."

'Some of those outside are part of the far-right'

Sadiq Khan blasts ULEZ critics in London Assembly meeting

What is more frustrating for the likes of Allen, Hyams and Whiteman, is being lumped in with far-right conspiracy theorists and Covid deniers by the Mayor of London.

Speaking at a People's Question Time event in March, Mr Khan said some people with "legitimate objections" to the ULEZ expansion have been "joining hands" with those from people from "far-right groups".

When he made the comments at the event, Mr Khan sparked anger in the crowd, with members of the public shouting back to the Mayor: "We are not the far-right - normal people are not the far-right."

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said there were some dangerous people in attendance at the event, including someone holding a poster of Mr Khan alongside a swastika.

Read More: Sadiq Khan sparks fury as he decries 'Far Right' and 'Covid denier' element among Ulez protesters

The benefits of reducing car usage is not lost on many Londoners, who will feel the financial pinch either way.

"I totally understand the argument of needing to reduce pollution," Mr Whiteman said.

But he said it is "unfair" to be put in the same category as "far-right groups" because he fears for the future of his business.

"Khan has compared it to the smoking ban but you can't then go and pay £12.50 to smoke in the pub...it is just going to hurt working people," he adds.

"It's another bill we have to pay for, another nail in the coffin."

Mr Khan's office told LBC the mayor is "determined to keep engaging with Londoners with legitimate concerns", citing TfL's £110 million scrappage scheme.

To benefit from scheme, you must live in one of London's 32 boroughs - unlike Mr Whitehouse - or you must be on a certain kind of benefit, such as universal credit or carer's allowance.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Picture: Getty

There is little denying that the expansion of ULEZ - and the overall policy of reducing car usage - can have an effect in reducing air pollution.

According to TfL, around 90 per cent of cars in London already pass the emissions test, so they will not be impacted by the expansion.

Air pollution specialist and Professor Frank Kelly from Imperial College London said the remaining 10 per cent "have the worst emissions" and could represent "up to 50% of all vehicle emissions" in the area.

He told LBC: "If they are removed from the roads there will be a significant fall in emissions which will lead quite quickly to an improvement in air quality (for that time of year)."

But despite the benefits, opposition remains.

Read More: Five councils launch legal challenge to dispute Sadiq Khan's ULEZ expansion

More recently, opposition to Mr Khan's expansion extended to Trafalgar Square, which saw hundreds turn out to voice their discontent with mock registration plates reading 'No to ULEZ'.

There have also been a growing number of ULEZ cameras that have had their wires cut across London, including in Hounslow, which will be covered by the zone this summer.

ULEZ camera's wires cut in Chiswick, west London
ULEZ camera's wires cut in Chiswick, west London. Picture: Supplied
Hundreds turned out for a recent protest against the ULEZ expansion in Trafalgar Square
Hundreds turned out for a recent protest against the ULEZ expansion in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Handout

Meanwhile, Mr Khan's expansion will be challenged at the High Court after five councils requested a judicial review, throwing the August 29 extension date into question.

Harrow, Hillingdon, Bromley, and Bexley in London and Surrey county council lodged a request for a judicial review of Sadiq Khan’s plans - and the move was accepted by a judge.

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: "The decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide was not an easy one for the Mayor to make but it was necessary.

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.

"We know the ULEZ works as it’s already allowed more than four million people to breathe cleaner air in inner London and harmful emissions have been cut by nearly half in central London.

"Nine out of ten cars driving in outer London are already ULEZ compliant and will not have to pay the charge.

“The Mayor is determined to keep engaging with Londoners with legitimate concerns and has listened to Londoners throughout this process.

"That is why he’s announced the biggest scrappage scheme yet - £110m - to help the Londoners who need it most, including charities, low income and disabled Londoners, micro-businesses and sole traders."