'It was about taxing motorists': Transport Sec hits out at Sadiq Khan over Ulez expansion as Tories vow to scrap it

8 June 2024, 10:33 | Updated: 8 June 2024, 10:38

The Conservatives have said they would also end pay-per-mile road taxes and rule out blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones
The Conservatives have said they would also end pay-per-mile road taxes and rule out blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones. Picture: Getty

By Charlie Duffield

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has defended the Conservative pledge to reverse Labour's 'unfair' Ulez expansion, if they get re-elected.

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It is among a number of measures that they say make them "the party on the side of drivers".

Speaking to LBC on Saturday morning, Mr Harper explained: "We're not proposing to alter the Ulez zone that's in central London...what we're talking about is the expansion that took place.

"The mayor's own impact assessment said that that expansion to outer London would have a minor to negligible effect on air quality ...it wasn't about air quality it was about taxing motorists and raising money.

"It wasn't popular...people in outer London voted for Susan Hall, not Sadiq Khan.

"The Ulez expansion to outer London affects a lot of people who live outside London, who have to come into London to work, potentially people in public services who drive in antisocial hours. They have no democratic control over the mayor of London.

"We're going to reverse the expansion of Ulez to outer London, we're not altering the inner London piece, which I think did have a positive impact on air quality.

Watch Again: Matthew Wright is joined by Transport Secretary Mark Harper | 08/06/24

"What we're doing doesn't affect the quality of air in London, it just stops punishing motorists, particularly the poorest ones."

When questioned whether he was swimming against the tide of popular opinion, given Sadiq Khan's overwhelming majority, he reiterated that "the expansion of Ulez had nothing to do with clean air".

The Conservatives have said they would also end pay-per-mile road taxes and rule out blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones.

Money saved from cancelling HS2 will also be used to repair roads and fix potholes, they added.

Susan Hall, the Conservatives' unsuccessful candidate for London mayor, also planned to end the Ulez expansion to the outer boroughs, which was brought in at the end of August last year.

The £12.50 Ulez charge was originally introduced by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan in 2019 to improve air quality in London by disincentivising people with older, more polluting cars from driving in the capital.

It has caused controversy, with some saying that they need their car to get around and cannot afford the charge. Others have backed the move for health and environmental reasons.

The Conservatives say the ULEZ tax rise only has a "moderate" or "minor" effect on pollution
The Conservatives say the ULEZ expansion is "unpopular". Picture: Alamy

The Ulez charge applies to all vehicles that have emissions standards older than Euro 4 for petrol engines, or Euro 6 for diesel engines.

That means that petrol vehicles registered before 2005 and diesel vehicles registered before 2015 are likely to have pay the charge.

Drivers of cars, smaller vans and motorbikes that don't meet Ulez standards have to pay £12.50 a day to drive within the zone.

Sadiq Khan introduced Ulez
Sadiq Khan introduced Ulez. Picture: Alamy

The Conservatives said in a statement that the ULEZ expansion had led to thousands of people living around London being charged to get to hospital appointments or where they work or study.

"Pay-per-mile road taxes are one of the most worrying proposals currently being explored by local Labour politicians.

"They could see drivers charged depending on how far they drive, what time of day and what car they drive it in. Labour looked at a national scheme last time they were in Government. This Bill will make sure they can never be introduced.

"While 20mph zones can help improve road safety in residential areas or outside schools, misuse undermines public trust and risks congestion and pollution, so we are clear they must only be considered on a road-by-road basis, and with the support of people who live there.

"So the Conservatives will rule out blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones which have been so damaging to businesses.

"Under these plans, local people will be newly empowered with any new schemes subject to a local referendum and a right to challenge existing schemes.

"These measures will also apply in Wales where the Welsh Labour Government has ignored the views of the public and imposed blanket 20mph speed limits. 

"This builds on the Conservatives’ strong track record of backing drivers. Measures like freezing fuel duty for 14 years in a row, saving the average household £1,000, publishing the milestone Plan for Drivers and putting hundreds of millions into the Safer Roads Fund."

They added they are building over 1,100 of new and upgraded major roads.

They also said they will invest £8.3billion saved from cancelling HS2 to repair roads and fix potholes.

Read more: Majority of Brits say Rishi Sunak skipping D-Day event is 'unacceptable', as minister calls criticism 'unfair'

Rishi Sunak announced his cancellation of HS2 at last year's Conservative Party Conference
Rishi Sunak announced his cancellation of HS2 at last year's Conservative Party Conference. Picture: Getty

Rishi Sunak said: “We are the party on the side of drivers. That’s why we have a clear plan to keep motoring costs under control and ensure people have the freedom to drive as they need to lead their daily lives.

“We will empower drivers and local residents to challenge aggressive and punitive traffic-inducing measures, like low traffic neighbourhoods that were imposed without local consent."

Transport for London declined to comment, citing election rules.

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