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Londoners to enjoy better air quality with expanded zone

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-08-30 09:35

A road sign marks the start of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, which requires motorists with non-compliant polluting vehicles to pay a daily charge. FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP

People in London should be breathing cleaner air from Monday, following the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ, which aims to reduce harmful vehicle emissions across Greater London.

The project was first announced in 2015 by the Conservative Party's then-London mayor Boris Johnson, who called it "an essential measure to help improve air quality in our city, protect the health of Londoners, and lengthen our lead as the greatest city on earth".

The ULEZ initially covered inner London, but under its current mayor, the Labour Party's Sadiq Khan, the new catchment area is 18 times as large, taking in about 5 million Londoners across all 32 London boroughs.

"I know what the scientists, health practitioners and other experts tell me about our city and London has such toxic air, nothing else will fix it as fast or effectively," Khan told The Guardian.

"I trust in Londoners and that they will understand how difficult this decision was, but also how necessary it was. There are lives on the line — lives in my hands. I don't want future generations to ask why we knew what we did, had the opportunity to act and didn't."

Financial support has been offered to motorists whose vehicles do not meet the new requirements, and anyone driving a vehicle into the ULEZ that is not up to standard faces a daily fine of $15.80, with critics saying it is a money grabbing move.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told radio station LBC that the government opposed the plan, but was powerless to stop it.

" (Khan) says he's doing air quality reasons, but if you look at his own impact assessment, it makes it clear it will only have a minor to negligible effect on air quality," he said. "It's not about air quality, it's about raising money from hard-pressed Londoners, and that is why we don't support it. But we don't have the power to block it."

Other cities across the United Kingdom, including Glasgow and Oxford, have clean area zones, but not as widespread or comprehensive as London's, which has become a high-profile political battleground over the issue.

The ULEZ was blamed for a narrow by-election defeat in outer London last month for the opposition Labour Party.

Labour leader Keir Starmer attributed the loss to the ULEZ dispute and urged reflection, including from the mayor. Khan, however, defended his stance, accusing opponents of "weaponizing air pollution and climate change" in search of votes.

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