London ULEZ expansion 2023: could Downing Street block new scheme and why are councils taking legal action?

City Hall dismissed suggestions that Mayor Sadiq Khan has exceeded his powers as “desperate nonsense” while Tory councils launch a legal bid to stop the ULEZ.

The government could block Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand London’s ULEZ, according to new reports.

As five Tory-led councils launch legal action to stop the zone’s expansion, the Sunday Telegraph claims that Downing Street is looking at whether it can veto Khan’s plan. It reports that advisors are considering whether the Mayor has exceeded his powers under the Greater London Authority (GLA) Act of 1999.

The Labour Mayor has faced strong opposition to his plans to expand the city’s ultra-low emissions zone. Under the changes due to come into force in August, the zone will cover all 32 London boroughs, imposing a £12.50 per day charge on any vehicle which doesn’t meet strict emissions standards.

Some councils have refused to allow new enforcement cameras to be installed and five authorities have launched a legal bid to stop the expansion, claiming it is unlawful.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Whitehall officials are now considering whether they can veto the expansion on the grounds that it is “inconsistent” with national transport policies and “detrimental” to areas outside Greater London. The Mayor’s office dismissed the suggestion as “desperate nonsense”.

Paul Scully, Minister for London, told the paper: “There are various avenues to look at in the GLA Act. It says the government can step in and veto anything that is in contravention to the national strategy.

“Does the Ulez expansion affect people in other parts of the country? You can make the argument that it does. It affects a whole load of people in Surrey, Kent and Hertfordshire who didn’t get a say on it. It is taxation without representation.”

August’s changes will see the ULEZ expand to cover all 32 London boroughs August’s changes will see the ULEZ expand to cover all 32 London boroughs
August’s changes will see the ULEZ expand to cover all 32 London boroughs

A spokesperson for the Mayor responded: “These claims are desperate nonsense. The Secretary of State could only use this power after changing national policy to prevent all cities charging drivers based on their emissions.

“Ministers have directed numerous UK cities to introduce clean air zones, and the government is under clear legal obligations to tackle air pollution. The Mayor has received no suggestion from government that they have any intention to renege on these commitments.”

The Mayor’s office argues that the ULEZ expansion is needed to tackle air pollution within London but several councils, including those bordering the new larger zone, argue that it will have a negative impact on their residents.

The outer London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon, together with Surrey County Council, have now said they have launched a judicial review into the mayor’s plan. The mayor of Croydon said his council supported their action but could not afford to participate in the challenge.

The councils said they will challenge the expansion in the High Court on the grounds that “relevant statutory requirements” were not complied with, expected compliance rates in outer London were not considered, and the proposed scrappage scheme was not consulted on.

They will also claim the overall consultation process was not properly conducted and there was a failure to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the plan.

Leader of Hillingdon Council Ian Edwards said: “ULEZ is the wrong solution in outer London as it will have negligible or nil impact on air quality but will cause significant social and economic harm to our residents. We believe Sadiq Khan’s decision to impose this scheme on outer London boroughs is unlawful.”

His counterpart at Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver, said: “We are committed to delivering a greener future, but it must be done in a practical and sustainable way. The impact on many Surrey residents and businesses will be significant and we will not stand by and watch that happen with no mitigations offered from the Mayor.”

Conservatives in London previously claimed City Hall officials “manipulated” the final results of Transport for London’s (TfL) consultation by excluding some so-called “campaign responses”, which lowered the level of opposition in the final count from 62% to 59%.

A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “While we’re aware of media speculation that an application for a judicial review has been made by four boroughs and Surrey County Council, neither the GLA (Greater London Authority) nor TfL have been served with their claim. We will be defending any challenge to this vital scheme.”