In a recent speech, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that Transport for London are discussing expanding the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) to cover the whole of Greater London from 2023. Will the next step be to introduce similar schemes in all the towns and cities across the British Isles?
London’s ULEZ is a zone in central London and within (and currently not including) the North and South Circular Roads. Unless you’re in an ‘Ultra Low Emission’ vehicle such as an electric or hybrid car, or a fairly modern petrol or diesel (specifically a petrol that meets Euro 4 standards or a diesel that meets Euro 6 standards), you have to pay £12.50 every day you want to drive within the zone. And that’s on top of the congestion charge.
The reasoning behind the ULEZ is four-fold: the condition of the air in London is, quite frankly, gross. Not only is it gross, best estimates say up to 10,000 Londoners die every year thanks, at least in some part, to the massive amount of air pollution. Obviously the entire planet is slowly cooking itself, thanks to all the extra greenhouse gasses we’re clogging the ozone layer up with. And then of course there is the traffic congestion in London which, if you’ve ever driven there, you’ll know to be quite considerable. The ULEZ is a good way to discourage people to either not drive in the zone at all, or if they must, at least drive something ‘clean’. And then of course, benefit number four is the £40million revenue Transport for London make off the back of it.
The latest plan is to expand the ULEZ to cover even more of the capital. Khan said:
We simply don’t have time to waste. The climate emergency means we only have a small window of opportunity left to reduce carbon emissions to help save the planet.
This is also a matter of social justice, with air pollution hitting the poorest communities the hardest. Nearly half of Londoners don’t own a car, but they’re disproportionately feeling the damaging consequences that polluting vehicles are causing.
I believe the proposal to extend the ULEZ London-wide will have the biggest effect on emissions and congestion relative to the potential financial impact on Londoners as a whole.”
If the numbers are reliable, it’s difficult to argue with the logic. As well as making the TfL a load of money, the ULEZ has cleaned up the air in central London. So much so that the London Assembly now say that there’s more air-pollution-related deaths in the outer boroughs of London (ones that are not covered by the ULEZ), than anywhere else.
If I’m being honest, I can’t see the ULEZ being anything more than a drop in the ocean when it comes to the global problem of climate change. The UK is already fairly ‘green’ particularly when you compare it to some countries. But every little helps. And we all know that, where global politics are concerned, it’s as much about being seen to be doing something, as it is anything else. I make no apologies for my cynicism.
I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people that get upset about the planned ULEZ expansion, but if it actually saves as many lives as Khan reckons it will (he said around 550,000 Londoners could develop air-pollution-related diseases over the next 30 years), you’d probably, even if reluctantly, have to say it’s a good thing.
But if it’s a good thing in London, wouldn’t it be a good thing in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh? Well there are obviously quite a few city councils that think so; Birmingham have already got a ‘Clean Air Zone’, Glasgow and Edinburgh are both getting one in the next year or two, Manchester and Bradford are both talking about it at the moment, and that’s to name but a few.
I expect before too many years, it’ll be easier to name the areas that don’t have a ULEZ or ‘Clean Air Zone’, than do. In fact there’s an argument to say that, with the vehicle tax structure the way it is (i.e. charging more for vehicles with higher emissions), the entire country is already a Low Emission Zone.
I’m in two minds about this seemingly nationwide expansion of Low Emission Zones. It does seem like a bit of a liberty, demanding more and more cash from people just because they drive older, less environmentally friendly cars; a lot of them probably can’t afford a newer, cleaner car. But there is a problem with air pollution in cities, and that’s a problem they’re definitely adding to. Something’s got to be done. So for once in my life, I’m not going to express an opinion one way on the other as far as this is concerned. I’m sure there are enough people with opinions about it, as it is, so one less won’t hurt.