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

29 June 2023, 21:43 | Updated: 30 June 2023, 00:08

Sadiq Khan was grilled at LBC's State of London debate
Sadiq Khan was grilled at LBC's State of London debate. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Sadiq Khan was heckled over Ulez expansion during an LBC debate as he defended his controversial environmental scheme.

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The mayor of London defended his controversial cornerstone policy at LBC's State of London, which charges motorists if their car does not fit requirements to drive through the zones in London.

He hopes it will reduce air pollution and improve Londoner's lives, but businesses and squeezed families resent facing extra costs and have protested against it.

But Mr Khan has ploughed on, hoping Ulez will cover all of London from August.

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

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

But an audience member began shouting over him as James O'Brien tried to convince him we would not be heard over the radio.

An audience member heckles Sadiq Khan for the first time on Air Quality

The audience member berated Mr Khan over his claims about the science that supported Ulez measures, saying he "misconstrued it".

"No-one has died, stop lying!" the heckler yelled.

Mr Khan went on, saying the Government's figures show 36,000 people died in the UK because of air pollution, and the World Health Organisation says more people die from air pollution than tobacco.

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

Adults suffer other complications, too, he added, saying it is a "big, big problem".

Heckled again, Mr Khan said: "We introduced the Ulez in central London. In two years, it reduced the poison by 50% but it also led to a third fewer children being admitted in hospital."

But he said outer London has the largest number of respiratory issues.

James O'Brien: 'People will wonder why you're prioritising roadside air over air underground...'

He was cheered by the audience when he said he was not willing to accept Londoners suffering from worse air quality.

"Clean air should not be a privilege for those who live in central London, it should be a human right for everyone in London," he said.

Responding to critics who believe the science is disputed, he claimed "99%" of experts "have one position".

"Failure looks like knowing there is a problem, knowing there's a solution and not taking action."

The scheme has infuriated some Londoners, with cameras that record which cars have entered Ulez being targeted by opponents.

In a wide ranging debate, Mr Khan

  • insisted dust levels on the Tube are not breaching safety standards, and insisted that it is a different issue to harmful particles above ground
  • again said he wants rent controls for London, saying the "skies haven't fallen in" after Scotland introduced a 3% rent rise cap
  • defended changes to bus routes, saying he put in City Hall money to ensure TfL kept services going at a time when the operator was struggling financially
  • said he respects the vote to leave the EU and described Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as a remainer, like he is
  • declared he backs the junior doctor's strike, directly contradicting shadow health secretary Wes Streeting's past opposition to it