Victory in ULEZ campaign

On the doorstep, and on social media, in the ward where I live there has been one main topic recently – ULEZ. And of course it hugely influenced the by-election result in Uxbridge, which should have been a pushover for Labour. Sadiq Khan’s rollout of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (and a daily charge of £12.50) to the whole of Greater London at the end of this month has been greeted with anger and derision, not to mention conspiracy theories.

This has put Liberal Democrats in a position which is sometimes difficult to articulate in political soundbites. On the one hand we firmly support measures that reduce air pollution and prevent unnecessary deaths. On the other hand we recognise that the implementation of the scheme could cause real hardship to people already angry about the cost of living crisis. But there is some good news at last.

When ULEZ was first introduced in inner London it covered an area with excellent public transport. Few of us in the suburbs would think of driving into the centre anyway because the Congestion Charge already applied. And there was an 18 month period in which residents could prepare for the new charge.

This time the Greater London extension to ULEZ was announced only months before it was due to come into effect, and across an area with far greater reliance on cars, where the tentacles of London’s transport system spread more widely. Now some 90% of cars are already ULEZ complaint but there is a real issue with the remaining 10%, which are largely older vehicles. Those owners most affected are people who are least able to afford to change their cars, especially given that their old ones are going to be virtually unsellable. There have also been heartfelt pleas from sole traders whose livelihoods are dependent on their aging white vans.

Help was available, in the form of a £2000 scrappage grant, to a small proportion of owners, but was limited to those on certain benefits, plus a limited scheme for sole traders.

Now if you don’t live around here you might imagine that the suburbs of London are packed with the wealthy middle classes, and while such do indeed live here the actual picture is much more of a social mix. In my ward there are plenty of people who are just about managing – or were before the cost of living crisis hit. The boundary of Greater London is just 200m from my front door, which means that it will also have an impact of friends and family visiting from outside the new zone, who do not yet feel the pressure to change their cars.

So our political message locally has been that the introduction of the ULEZ expansion needs to implemented in a more measured way, with more help available for those affected.

The announcement today is therefore welcome, although we will quite rightly say “Too little, too late”. It adds a further £50m to the scrappage scheme, removing the benefits requirement and offering the £2000 grant to any Londoner with a non-compliant vehicle. There is also a more generous offer for sole traders, who can now claim up to £7000. However, anyone who is based just outside the London boundary but whose client base largely lies within it, is still going to be severely affected.

You can check whether your vehicle meets the ULEZ requirements and find out about the extended scrappage system.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Paul Barker 4th Aug '23 - 11:21am

    Another way to put it would be to say that when it came to the crunch we chickened out, supporting ULEZ technically while giving the impression we were against it.
    Several Libdem led Councils actually sided with The Tories in opposing the ULEZ expansion & consider joining their joint Court action against it.
    Its really no surprise that The Greens usually do better than us in All-London Elections.

  • Laurence Cox 4th Aug '23 - 11:55am

    We should be thankful that Mayor Khan has seen sense and removed the requirement that only those on specified benefits should be able to access the scrappage scheme. There must be many in Outer London who are just above a benefit threshold and would have lost out badly under the Mayor’s previous proposals. What is even more remarkable is that this extension to all Londoners will only add an extra £50 million to the previous £100 million cost. As Mayor Khan squashed Hina Bokhari’s previous proposal that would have doubled the cost of the scrappage scheme, that he was able to find this extra money so easily showed that his opposition was never about the money.

    There still remain some issues with ULEZ. Mary has touched on one concerning those just outside London, and this particularly affects Watford residents, who pay into TfL as the London Overground ends at Watford Junction station, but still receive no benefit from the scrappage scheme. Another affects small businesses as replacement vans and minibuses have to be all-electric to qualify for the scrappage payment: so even a Euro6 class diesel (while acceptable as a personal vehicle) is not acceptable for small businesses.

  • @Paul Barker – you seem to have completely missed the substantive and detailed points in Mary Reid’s piece and gone for an “ignore the facts, here’s my spin” take. Surely we Lib Dems understand that the real world is rather more nuanced than that?

  • Steve Trevethan 4th Aug '23 - 1:06pm

    Might it be possible for our party to start and support a deeper discussion on this matter?

    Air quality improvement is, literally, vital.

    Improving air quality to the cost of less well of is inequitable and so, also, inefficient.

    Might we seek ideas which address both these matters?

  • John Nicholson 4th Aug '23 - 1:12pm

    @Paul Barker – there are only three Lib Dem councils that are affected by the extension of the ULEZ. I don’t know about Kingston, but I know for a fact that Richmond is not involved in any legal challenge to the Mayor of London. I think this is an action of Sutton alone. As a long-standing LibDem activist in Richmond, I can assure you that we have not chickened out here, and I am disappointed that you did not check your facts before expressing yourself so strongly.

  • It would have been better if instead of payment out £2000 per vehicle in scrappage, applicants received an annual TFL travel card. The net effect of this would have been an injection of £160m into enhancing TFL services in the new ULEZ zone…

  • Paul Barker 4th Aug '23 - 2:40pm

    I thought the original scrappage scheme was already generous & involved using our money to help motorists buy new cars – not a good use in my eyes but you can make a case for it.
    This whole issue is complex but The Tories made it simple by opposing the ULEZ expansion. From then on the subtleties were lost & the Libdem refusal to simply say that Khan was right helped The Tories (& The Far Right who were also involved on the ground).
    That applies even more to Labour of course.

    Sometimes you just have to pick a side, in this case (except for Sutton ) The Libdems did little harm but no good either. If we are ever going to be a serious Party then we need to say things that make some people angry( on something other than Brexit).

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Aug '23 - 4:55pm

    Re your annual TfL travel card proposal – what use would that be to a builder who needs to carry lots of stuff – tools and materials – around in a van?

    @Paul Barker
    When will you wake up to the issue that while many comfortably off residents might have been able to afford compliant vehicles, the less well-off and small businesses who need their vehicles can’t afford them?

    I’m not personally affected in any way but it seems to me that (a) the principle of ULEZ is the right one but (b) the extension of the zone from the North and South Circular roads to the outer edge of Greater London has been horribly badly implemented.

  • I don’t think giving people like me £2000 is a good use of London Council taxpayers’ money. I am sure that many people who traded in/scrapped their bangers over the last month or so are annoyed with today’s announcement – leaving them £2000 out of pocket. My solution on how to implement a ULEZ is here (sorry, £) Don’t require anyone to swap their car, but be stricter on what cars residents can have when they choose their next car. This would improve air quality more than the Mayor’s plan, without causing the social (and political) pain.

  • @Tim – I like the pragmatism of your suggestion and clear attention to detail, only point I take issue with is the free visit days.

    Personally, cogestion / emissions zone and tolls are one of the reasons for using tools such as Waze, they inform me of the various zones my journey will encounter and (generally) guide me to the right website to pay the relevant fee. The issue with free days is that they may cause problems because more people will travel on those days (the increased pollution etc. would be much more noticeable – a bit like dog poo today verses 40+ years back) also in keeping it simple, tools such as Waze would need more complex rules, so I’m happy for there to be a charge as at present of £15 per day and for the charge to increase if I make more than say one journey a month.

  • @ Nonconformistradical
    It won’t!

    The big win is reducing the total number of vehicles on the road. I suspect once we get into detail there needs to be a national ie.government scheme to help tradesmen (given it is this group of workers you are referring to and not the majors who have better access to funding)
    However, from tradespeople I know, I have to question why they are running a pre 2006/2016 van in 2023 and are unable to afford a secondhand van.

  • Martin Gray 4th Aug '23 - 5:54pm

    ‘ which should have been a pushover for Labour’….
    Labour couldn’t take it during the landslide of 97…
    So hardly a pushover…

  • Jason Connor 4th Aug '23 - 6:24pm

    I would scrap the whole scheme in any case. It hasn’t made any difference to air quality where I live in Inner London. In my area far more pollution from the Council’s own figures, twice as many greenhouse gas emissions, are caused by domestic buildings and non domestic buildings. Perhaps we should scrap them too or perhaps not. Of course the upper middle classes on here like to see the less well off who drive suffer; people with a protected characteristic, council tenants like myself, blue badge holders, older people, sole traders and small businesses etc. A good example was given above of builders etc. carrying heavy materials add to that window cleaners, electricians et al. I know many supporters of labour, conservative and lib dem who oppose the extension of the scheme so will not be scapegoated as above. Perhaps that person should join the Greens who are not really into consulting where they get power. Also the proponents of ULEZ should know better and do not help their cause by using gender stereotypes. Many women and other gender identities are also ‘tradespeople’.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Aug '23 - 7:10pm

    @Jason Connor
    “twice as many greenhouse gas emissions, are caused by domestic buildings and non domestic buildings”
    Presumably from use of fossil fuel heating systems? Asked she who can just about recall the 1952 London smog…

    But I can imagine some well to do people not caring too much about paying the ULEZ charge……

    And some vehicles are exempt altogether – see And such vehicles are exempt from road tax as awell.
    So presumably Jacon Rees Mogg can drive anywhere in London in that 1936 Bentley without paying the charge….

  • “ Asked she who can just about recall the 1952 London smog…”
    After seeing News reports and YouTube videos of buses producing abnormal amounts of smoke, I do wonder if it were a requirement to add a colour to vehicle exhaust whether people and in this specific instance Londoners, would be so opposed to exhaust pollution reduction schemes….

    @Jason – the intent of the original scheme was not so much to reduce tailpipe pollution, but to stop it getting worse; it would seem fromyour observation it has been successful.

  • This TFL piece on discounts and exemptions makes interesting reading.

    Whilst the page doesn’t have a revision date, so I can note be sure if it takes account of the latest announcements, it does seems that there are groups such as the disabled and small businesses/sole traders who can obtain a grace period for their none qualifying vehicle, they only have to apply…

  • Thanks all for your range of comments.
    @Roland – Thanks for the link. I think I should join a travelling fair.
    @Martin Gray – But a disgraced Johnson wasn’t the MP for Uxbridge in 1997.
    @Tim Leunig – would love to hear more about your suggestions. Perhaps you could write a post for us?
    @Jason O’Connor – “Of course the upper middle classes on here like to see the less well off who drive suffer; people with a protected characteristic, council tenants like myself, blue badge holders, older people, sole traders and small businesses etc.” The mind boggles. Who exactly are the upper middle classes on here? And what is the evidence that these people (if they exist) wish suffering on others? If you write in jest then you need to know that irony does not work in print.

  • Martin Gray 5th Aug '23 - 3:45am

    As regards Jason’s comment Mary – the perception is that the party and the progressive left has been captured by a Metropolitan middle class mindset – devoid of any notion of what it’s really like for those at the bottom – the shelf stacker , warehouse worker , shop worker , care assistant , etc etc …Doing a job and earning a salary that many could never envisage or survive on …It’s also seen as overly concerned with gender and ID politics ..Pro EU , pro immigration that’s not shared by millions of voters . How real that perception is – we’ll find out in a year’s time..

  • Mick Taylor 5th Aug '23 - 8:39am

    The Tories held Uxbridge in the by-election in 1973 as well, when according to the pundits they should have lost it. The Liberals did better too

  • Peter Martin 5th Aug '23 - 9:55am


    Jason could have chosen a more appropriate term than “upper middle class”. I would suggest he means those who don’t have too many financial concerns which is a large number of us, but nevertheless his comment about the state of politics generally is perfectly valid even if we don’t fully agree with it.

    The progressive left, including the Labour Party too, has lost touch with those in our society who definitely do have financial concerns due to a combination of low wages, high rents and property prices. It’s makes for dangerous politics. Those advocating PR should be careful of what they wish for. They might like to take a look at how the far right have prospered in the EU where they, unlike the traditional political left, have made the most of popular discontent.

  • William Wallace 5th Aug '23 - 10:08am

    Mary: those with elderly diesel cars in the new ULEZ zone might note that they haven’t lost all their value elsewhere. A fellow allotmenteer in Saltaire happily bought our car for a modest price last year. Political parties have not yet addressed the increasing size and weight of cars for the better-off inhabitants of London and elsewhere. Heavier cars mean more potholes;larger cars less room for others to park (or walk). Prosperous SW London, in my observation, is suffering from an explosion of SUVs.

  • David Garlick 5th Aug '23 - 10:14am

    Air Quality is poor and damaging to health. Anything wecan do to impove itis warmly welcomed. Hope old cars don’t start flooding in to London…

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Aug '23 - 1:39pm

    “Those advocating PR should be careful of what they wish for. They might like to take a look at how the far right have prospered in the EU ”

    It would still be fairer and more representative, even if someone I didn’t like got elected.

    “They have to be protected, all their rights respected, till somebody we like can be elected” (Send the Marines Tom Lehrer)

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '23 - 2:54pm

    “Those advocating PR should be careful of what they wish for. They might like to take a look at how the far right have prospered in the EU ” whereas under FPTP they can prosper not by winning under their own colours, but by taking over the machinery of one of the main parties. The Trumpite and ERG takeovers of the US Republican and UK Conservative parties respectively are good examples of this. Worth noting that the UK Conservative Party belongs to the same European party alliance as many of the European parties commonly considered to be “far right” (European Conservative & Reformist). In Canada, the present-day Conservative Party was born recently from an merger between the original centre-right “Progressive Conservative” Party (following its reduction to a rump after the 1993 GE) and the populist Reform Party.
    And FPTP doesn’t prevent originally far-right parties from gaining hold either. The ruling BJP in India fits that description.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '23 - 3:11pm

    Labour would have been more likely to win Uxbridge in the 1997 by-election had it kept the local candidate from the GE, instead of parachuting in an apparatchik favoured by the party leadership (as I noted in a comment on a previous article). I doubt Johnson was a much of factor in this year’s by-election. If anything his absence from the ballot paper and the campaign might have brought back into the fold a few Tory voters who had been put off by him.

    PS on the far right: it is much easier to vote them out of power when they are standing as distinct parties (as they normally are under PR) than when they are part of the ‘coalition’ of a main party. One reason given for Vox losing ground in the latest Spanish GE was that people had experienced it in power in local government and said “No graciás”. It will take a very long time to get Trumpism out of the US Republicans or the Brexit-fanatics out of the UK Tories, and in the meantime Trump could get back in, and we have to experience the Tory flavour of far-rightism now.

  • Peter Martin 6th Aug '23 - 8:28am

    @ Alex,

    “Labour would have been more likely to win Uxbridge in the 1997 by-election had it kept the local candidate from the GE”

    Very possibly.

    This is Ali Milani. Ali is of Iranian origin, has too many pro-Palestinian sympathies and is considered too left wing to ever be allowed onto Starmer’s longlist of approved candidates. The CLP was willing to compromise and attempted to choose their own candidate from the long list but this move, too, was vetoed by Starmer who chose to impose his own man: Danny Beales.

  • Laurence Cox 6th Aug '23 - 2:15pm

    Those who think that ULEZ is all we need to get nitrogen oxides down to safe levels in London (and other cities) need to understand that another major cause of NOx air pollution is burning gas for heating (and would be still if we replaced natural gas with hydrogen).

    ‘A measure of the problem is provided by examining how much nitrogen dioxide pollution is produced by a typical domestic gas boiler in a day. “The average output is the equivalent of driving a new diesel car for 70km,” added Lewis. “It is a non-trivial amount.” ‘

    To get air-quality in London to safe levels we will have to replace all gas boilers with heat pumps. We will want to do this anyway to get to net-zero, but this is an additional reason not to delay.

  • Peter Davies 6th Aug '23 - 7:45pm

    Scrapping and replacing vehicles while there is plenty of life in them is really not a great idea from the point of view of greenhouse emissions especially if you allow them to be replaced by other ICE vehicles. The local polution problem can be solved by pushing them down the line to more rural areas and owners who use them less frequently. Both of those could be incentivised by ULEZ introduced at a much lower level initially and a published schedule for increasing levels. It would only take a few years for the less poluting second-hand vehicles to become available at the right price.

  • Sutton is not involved in any legal action, but it did ask for more time and more incentives to soften the ULEZ blow, and, as such opposed the proposals. It is also dealing with a ferocious Tory campaign that started long before Uxbridge to link us to the policy. I repeat here the comment I posted on the first of the ULEZ articles:

    The problem with ULEZ in its current form is it takes no account of the actual emissions of a car, only whether it was awarded EURO 4 (petrol) or EURO 6 (diesel) status at the point of manufacture.
    I completely agree we have to take urgent action on climate change but ULEZ is not about climate change but air quality and, as such, is not fair. Someone driving a 56 plate car with the same engine as a 51 model is exempt, even if the engine emissions are the same.
    I downloaded emissions data for 50 cars from the DVLA for petrol cars manufactured in the year 2000. All but 4 of them had emissions that were lower than the required EURO 4 standard.
    The solution would be to link ULEZ compliance to the emissions check carried out during an MOT test. All drivers understand that if their car is too polluting it gets taken off the road, so would be more likely to accept a nuance on whether their vehicle was fit for London. This would allow for many more older cars to stay on the road now, and for the GLA to tighten up the standards over time.

  • Jason Connor 16th Aug '23 - 5:29pm

    If it’s surprisingly not good enough for the founder of ER it’s not good enough for me either.
    Also I will not be patronised or belittled for expressing a viewpoint different from that above. It’s the upper middle classes where I live, and my experience is based on where I live as a Council tenant, who tend to dictate transport policy such as road closures; people with houses with up to £1 million. These same people got their roads closed off on a whim until a consultation with majority support forced the labour council to reverse them. The figures given date from 2019, the Council’s own figures, and we have had E10 petrol since which in case you haven’t heard lowers greenhouse gas and other emissions.
    Most pollution and global emissions are caused by domestic and non domestic buildings so ULEZ has not stopped pollution getting worse so is unsuccessful at the same time marginalising people on lower incomes who drive. Fortunately local ward Lib Dems think the same. I fully agree with Martin and to some extent Peter.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Aug '23 - 7:17pm

    @Jason Connor
    “It’s the upper middle classes where I live, ………………………people with houses with up to £1 million.”
    What’s the bottom end of your price range? And what might the same properties have cost say in the late 1990s?

    Being old enough to have watched all of a classic TV drama series The Forsyte Saga (late 1960s) – it’s the likes of the Forsyte family who I’d count as upper middle class (I’ve seen them referred to in those terms). People obsessed with money and property – not from need but just from desire.

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