London ULEZ expansion 2023: MP calls for government powers to block Sadiq Khan's extension plan

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Ex-Cabinet minister wants government to be able to review and overturn controversial transport policies set by London mayor

The government should be given powers to block London’s ULEZ expansion, under proposals being made by a former Cabinet minister.

Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said ministers should have the power to review and overturn “controversial” transport schemes such as the low-emissions zone expansion and low-traffic neighbourhoods where there are “very serious concerns”. 

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London mayor Sadiq Khan plans to expand the ULEZ boundaries to cover the whole of greater London in August. The move will affect virtually all households within the boundary of the M25 and require drivers to pay a £12.50 daily fee if their vehicle doesn’t meet certain emissions standards. It will also affect drivers coming into London from neighbouring council areas. 

Khan says the move is needed to tackle the “health emergency” of pollution in the city. A City Hall report, reviewed by Imperial College London, found that 4,000 Londoners die prematurely every year due to toxic air, and harmful pollution emissions have reduced by 26% within the expanded area.

However opponents have said its expansion is ineffective and unlawful. Several Tory-led councils in and around London have launched legal action to stop it being enforced. In April a High Court judge ruled that the councils could proceed with their action on the grounds of questions around the legal basis for the scheme and a lack of consultation on the ULEZ scrappage scheme.

Villiers, who represents Chipping Barnet, north London, said her proposals could force a rethink on the expansion and could apply to other projects including low traffic neighbourhoods and moves to build on station car parks. She will seek to introduce the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (Amendment) Bill in the Commons on Wednesday through the 10-minute rule motion procedure, although it is unlikely to become law in its current form.

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Villiers told the PA news agency: “A key theme is the unhappiness, especially with ULEZ but also with a number of the other controversial transport schemes the mayor has introduced.

“A lot of my constituents would like the government to be able to step in and ask the mayor to think again. My Bill, in principle, would allow that to happen although you will appreciate this procedure is more about raising issues really than the promise of actual legislative change.”

Villiers said that decisions made in London had an effect on people outside the city and ministers should be able to intervene if these people are not being considered. 

She said: “I’m sure some people will say you can’t interfere with the devolution settlement, but decisions on our capital city can have a massive impact on millions of people who commute in and out, as well as the UK’s economy as a whole.

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“So I think there is a place for intervention by ministers. I’m not saying this should happen as a matter of routine. But where there are very serious concerns about the decision by the mayor of London I think it’s legitimate for my constituents to want the Government to step in and ask that the mayor does something different.”

The mayor's office dismissed the motion as a waste of time and said that 90% of cars in outer London would not have to pay the daily charge. A spokesperson for the mayor said: "The mayor has been clear that the decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide was not an easy one, but necessary to tackle toxic air pollution and the climate crisis. It is disappointing that some backbench MPs are wasting parliamentary time playing politics. Both No.10 and the Transport Secretary have been clear this is a matter for the elected Mayor.

“With around 4,000 Londoners dying prematurely each year due to air pollution, there is no time for inaction and it’s people in outer London, particularly the poorest households, who suffer the most from the damaging health effects."

Villiers added that improving air quality in London was important but claimed that the ULEZ expansion “is the wrong scheme at the wrong time.”

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She said the scheme would have a “very limited impact on cleaning up our air…yet it will have a really tough impact on many people who are probably already struggling with rising prices and also on small businesses who may be dependent on vans.”

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