ULEZ is swinging political votes and making London less car friendly - but that’s nothing new

ULEZ has been blamed for Labour’s defeat in the Uxbridge by-election - but our cities have been pushing cars out for years.
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When driving into central London nowadays, you’ll most likely hear your sat-nav call out at some point that you are approaching the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). This is where drivers are charged a fee for bringing the most polluting vehicles into the city.

ULEZ is a big talking point currently as senior Labour MPs such as Angela Rayner have cited it as the big reason why they were unsuccessful in their pursuit of winning the by-election for Boris Johnson’s old seat - Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

It's a scheme that has faced major opposition from London's outer boroughs where legal challenges have even been mooted.

But if we cast our minds back to previous decades, our cities becoming less car-friendly is nothing new.

Many of the UK’s cities - including London - have been undergoing a continuing process of limiting the number of cars that can pass through and favouring pedestrian footfall instead.

A "NO 2 ULEZ" sign is seen in a shopping precinct on July 19, 2023 in Uxbridge, England.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)A "NO 2 ULEZ" sign is seen in a shopping precinct on July 19, 2023 in Uxbridge, England.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
A "NO 2 ULEZ" sign is seen in a shopping precinct on July 19, 2023 in Uxbridge, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

A look back strikes up some notable examples of this.


This may seem an unlikely place to start, but it definitely isn’t. The purpose of pedestrianisation is to give priority to those walking in some of the busiest areas of towns and cities.

And that’s exactly what Norwich set out to do in 1967. In that year London Street became the first shopping street in the UK to be pedestrianised

Within two years of the plans coming into place, the road was fully covered in paving.

Over the coming decades, many other cities followed Norwich’s example.


Since around 2017, Mayor Sadiq Khan has been vocal about his intentions to pedestrianize Europe’s busiest shopping location - Oxford Street.

But those plans for a pedestrian ‘piazza’ were axed in 2022 - largely linked to the Marble Arch Mound fiasco (a failed plan to bring in footfall and pedestrians with a raised area offering views of London).

However, earlier this year it was revealed that a new plan would include some pedestrianised areas, improved lighting, extra seating, and green areas.

And thus continues the constant battle between residents and policy-makers in London over how to control traffic issues, encourage walking, and yet not price Londoners out of areas on their doorstep.

Significant areas around London near South Bank and the strand are already heavily pedestrianised. Wider pavements and seating areas were also introduced in Aldwych back in 2022.


Another UK city which has undergone significant pedestrianisation is Nottingham

The East Midlands city is home to Clumber Street which a survey in the 1980s described as the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare in Europe.

It has now lost that mantle but the street remains pedestrianised and features some of the high street’s biggest brands as a walk-through from the city centre to the Victoria Centre shopping centre.

Other areas of the city including a section of Carrington Street and Collin Street were also pedestrianised in 2019 so commuters getting off at Nottingham Station can walk more safely into the city centre.

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