Extended Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London Sparks Government’s Attack on Labour’s Policies

The UK government plans to use the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) as an opportunity to criticize what it refers to as “Labour’s war on motorists”. The government hopes that this battle against green policies will resonate with voters and gain their support. The clean air scheme, which will now include every borough in London, began at midnight on Monday. Despite pressure from Keir Starmer to pause the extension of the £12.50 daily charge for heavily polluting vehicles, Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, stated that the health effects of toxic exhausts outweigh other considerations.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, dispatched to amplify the government’s message, described the extended clean air zone as “the latest salvo in Labour’s war on motorists”. The government plans to directly link the expansion to Keir Starmer in an attempt to use similar tactics that led to the Tories winning the Uxbridge byelection in July. Harper criticized Labour politicians in positions of power, mentioning a ban on road building in Wales, a tax on low-income motorists in London, and secret plans for a pay-per-mile scheme for drivers. However, Khan’s spokesperson clarified that a pay-per-mile scheme is not being planned.

While the Uxbridge result was not entirely positive for the government, it has prompted Chancellor Rishi Sunak to abandon certain green policies and portray Labour as eco-zealots with a dislike of drivers. In response to the Uxbridge vote, Sunak and Harper announced a review of low-traffic neighborhoods, which they deem as “anti-motorist”. The impact of this anti-green agenda will be tested by whether ministers and friendly newspapers can maintain public attention on the Ulez expansion, as coverage tends to diminish after the implementation of such schemes.

The Ulez, initially introduced by former mayor Boris Johnson and continued under Khan, originally covered only inner London. The further expansion of Ulez into the outer suburbs has sparked controversy due to the less dense public transport network and greater reliance on cars in those areas. Khan has criticized Sunak’s stance, claiming that it reverses decades of progress on clean air and puts the health of London’s children at risk. Khan has committed £160 million to a vehicle scrappage scheme to assist owners of older vehicles in upgrading. The program has received significant interest and applications totaling £6 million in funds in the last week alone. Any net revenue generated from the Ulez expansion will be invested in public transport, with a focus on improving bus services in outer London. The scheme is expected to cover its costs by 2026-27, as the proportion of compliant vehicles increases and revenue decreases.

The expansion of the Ulez is considered a significant milestone for London, promising a greener and healthier future for all residents of the city.