My local NextDoor social media chat is full of rants and calls to action against the planned Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) extension to this area. At London Bridge, there was a protest calling for the withdrawal of the ULEZ scheme and the dismissal of the London mayor, Sadiq Khan. The expansion to Greater London is scheduled to take place in August this year and I support it and look forward to it.
I welcome ULEZ
I live on a high street in St Mary Cray, Orpington, where traffic has quadrupled in the past five to ten years. This is partly due to the fact that a large, new, modern gated estate was built a couple of roads away from my house. The impact of the additional cars on the road was not taken into consideration. Last year, permission was given for nine new flats without any parking requirements, apart from a car park in the green around the corner.
Air and noise pollution on my road, which has four nurseries and a primary school, has drastically increased. Drivers don’t keep to the 20 MPH speed limit. I don’t have any scientific data, but the noise the cars make on the road, especially when it’s wet, is deafening. Air pollution levels must have soared.
Effect of ULEZ in Central London
Reports show that the current ULEZ has reduced harmful pollution levels in Central London by nearly half compared to what they would have been without the ULEZ. Each day, 74,000 fewer polluting vehicles are seen driving in the zone, a cut of 60% since expansion in October 2021.
In order to further cut pollution in and around London, the Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) have announced the controversial expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) from 29 August 2023. The expansion will cover all 33 boroughs of Greater London, in some areas bordering, but not including the M25.
Map of New ULEZ
ULEZ is life saving
The reasoning behind the ULEZ expansion is that air pollution remains the biggest current environmental risk to the health of Londoners. A report commissioned by the GLA in 2021 showed that air pollution also has a disproportionate impact on the health and sometimes deaths of more vulnerable people, including older people, children, and pregnant women. Ethnic minorities are also disproportionately affected as they are more likely to live in overpopulated areas with increased traffic.
An article in the Guardian of 2020 reports on a case where pollution played a role in the death of a vulnerable child, Ella: the nine year old’s family had argued that there was sufficient evidence to prove that the state failed to take steps to protect the public from dangerous levels of air pollution. This amounted to a violation of article 2 of the Human Rights Act, concerning the right to life.
“A coroner has made legal history by ruling that air pollution was a cause of the death of a nine-year-old girl.
“Philip Barlow, the inner south London coroner, said Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in February 2013 was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure. He said she was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution in excess of World Health Organization guidelines, the principal source of which were traffic emissions.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made a statement following the court ruling:
“Today must be a turning point so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartbreak as Ella’s family. Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the ultra low emission zone…”
“Ministers and the previous mayor have acted too slowly in the past, but they must now learn the lessons from the coroner’s ruling and do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution in London and across the country.”
Short term costs vs long term gains
Not all (but many) protestors against ULEZ are climate deniers or yellow vest hooligans. Some people are genuinely concerned about the cost of changing their older diesel cars or vans to compliant vehicles. A post on social media warned people that Heathrow Airport will be in the ULEZ charge area. Despite a good public transport connection, a family or elderly people with heavy luggage find trips to the airport difficult. Not everybody can afford a taxi. Also, several local hospitals, which cover non-ULEZ areas will now fall within the charge zone. If you need to travel to the PRUE hospital from Sevenoaks, for example, you will have to pay the £12.50 ULEZ charge, in addition to the extortionate hospital parking fees, so patients will find a visit to the A&E or a blood test appointment there very expensive.
I don’t have any answers for this dilemma and Sadiq Khan is also aware of how his new project will impact some groups. He has introduced extra funding of £110million for a scrappage scheme. This should help small businesses. Disabled drivers and low income people are also eligible for some support. Of course, the price of diesel cars has plummeted and I had to sell my older estate car in January at quite a loss. I now own a cheaper petrol car which is ULEZ compliant and has risen in value. I suffered a financial loss I could not really afford, but the health of my nephews and nieces and other children, and my own health are priceless. It is time that we take a long term view and act to try and save our beautiful planet for future generations.