The Battle for Clean Air: The London Ultra Low Emissions Zone brawl | Air pollution

ANDParents walk their children past four lanes of smoking Kingston traffic, Oliver Lord sighs. “We shouldn’t pit a caregiver with a car against a mom taking care of her asthmatic son in hospital,” says Lord, who is the campaign’s head of strategy for the Clean Cities campaign.

He and other campaigners are dismayed at how clean air has become a political battlefield, with tensions rising over plans to extend the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez) across Greater London.

Last week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan was confronted by protesters carrying a sign depicting him with a swastika and a hammer and sickle at a public meeting in Ealing, west London. Khan himself did little to calm the situation, claiming that people with legitimate objections to Uleza’s expansion “have joined hands with the far right … Some of those on the outside belong to the far right. Some are denying Covid. Some are vaccine deniers and some are Tories.”

Oliver Lord, Head of Clean Cities Campaign Strategy, next to Kingston upon Thames Air Quality Monitor.
Oliver Lord, Head of Clean Cities Campaign Strategy, next to Kingston upon Thames Air Quality Monitor. Photo: Andy Hall/The Observer

The unlikely coalition of London Ulez opponents ranges from Jacob Rees-Mogg MP for North East Somerset and Conservative-controlled councils in and around London to anti-vaccine activists including Right Said Fred’s Richard Fairbrass and Piers Corbyn.

But it also includes many ordinary people, from builders and sales managers to chefs and caretakers. Consumer finance expert Martin Lewis, speaking alongside Khan at a cost-of-living event last month, also expressed concerns. “Causes [expanding Ulez] are good but timing is pretty hard to do this this year in the cost of living crisis.”

The Ulez was Boris Johnson’s plan, originally limited to the city center but extended in 2021 by Khan to inner London. Drivers of the most polluting cars and vans must pay £12.5 a day or be fined, while HGVs and buses pay £100.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan plans to extend the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to Greater London in August.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan plans to extend the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to Greater London in August. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

Since then, most of the most polluting vehicles have left central London, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions have fallen by 26%. The City Hall points out that only 6% of vehicles pay the fee.

The mayor intends to expand the zone on August 29 and has launched a £110m scrapping scheme with compensation of up to £2,000 for low-income drivers and up to £9,500 for small businesses and van charities.

However, this is not enough to help traders and key workers. Perhaps seeing an opportunity to make life difficult for a political opponent, the Conservative government turned down a Labor mayor’s request to top up the scrapping fund, despite having donated similar amounts to schemes in Manchester, Bradford and Birmingham.

Surrey County Council has allied with other Tory-controlled London boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon – to contest the extension.

If the Ulez extension is blocked, residents of places like Kingston-upon-Thames will still be breathing some of the capital’s most toxic air. According to prof. Frank Kelly, head of Imperial College’s Environmental Research Group, depending on the weather, roads on the outskirts of London are “much more polluted than in central London, simply because the vehicles are cleaner.”

Ulez expansion map
Expanding Ulez London map.

Standing next to one of the roadside air pollution monitors that measure pollution along Cromwell Road in Kingston, Oliver Lord points to rows of flats and a school next to three lanes of traffic.

“This shows illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide for 12 years, even though they were supposed to end in 2010,” he says. “A whole generation of children grew up in Kingston with harmful levels of air pollution.”

This particular air pollution monitor – an interesting combination of tubes, funnels and vents on a box on the side of Cromwell Road – shows an annual average of 43 micrograms per cubic meter – four times higher than the guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

skip previous newsletter promotion

Jonathan Hudson, cardiology registrar at Kingston Hospital, said people had incorrectly assumed that air pollution mainly caused lung problems. “Air pollution is a risk factor for heart disease,” he said. “People may think they lead a very healthy lifestyle, eat right and exercise. But if you’re cycling the Cromwell Road, you’re breathing in fumes that are very damaging to your heart.”

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for clean air since the death in 2013 of her nine-year-old daughter Ella, who the coroner said was a victim of air pollution.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for clean air since the death in 2013 of her nine-year-old daughter Ella, who the coroner said was a victim of air pollution. photo. Dominik Lipinski/PA

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for clean air for 10 years since the death of her daughter Ella at the age of nine. She had asthma and her mother had to resuscitate her “again and again”, she said Observer. When Ella died, the coroner ruled she was a victim of air pollution, and the government pledged to act.

“And they didn’t do what they should have done,” he says. “How much have they contributed to the scrapping program? Zero. Londoners pay huge amounts of excise duty. Where is our money? Don’t play games with Londoners.

“Poor people are being exploited. People with universal credit don’t drive – they wait at bus stops in the fumes.”

Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said ministers should “listen to Chris Whitty” after England’s chief medical officer said indoor spaces should be monitored for air quality.

Although Surrey County Council is part of a lawsuit seeking to stop the Ulez, transport council member Matt Furniss says the council agreed with the rule. “Our concern is the significant financial and social impact on Surrey residents and businesses that have to cross the border every day,” he says.

The council wants the mayor to extend the scrapping scheme to some of the estimated 160,000 cars in Surrey that do not comply with the Ulez, extend public transport to the county, exempt key workers from the fee and fund better bus routes in Surrey.

“That’s why we’ve launched legal action to get the Mayor of London and TfL involved in our case,” he adds.

But Khan insists. “If it’s good enough for those in central London, why isn’t it good enough for those on the outskirts?” he told a meeting in Ealing. “Clean air is a human right, not a privilege.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *