Ulez legal challenge defeated at High Court

Court’s decision on low-emission zone expansion welcomed by Sadiq Khan and environmental campaigners, reports David Floyd

The High Court and (inset) Ulez
The High Court and (inset) Ulez

The expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) will go ahead as planned next month after the High Court rejected a challenge from five local councils. 

The plan to expand the scheme, which will see older vehicles that fail to meet specified emissions standards pay a £12.50 daily charge to drive on almost all roads in London, has attracted growing political opposition and was seen as a key factor in the Conservatives’ victory in last week’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. 

The London borough councils for Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon, plus Surrey County Council, had taken the Mayor of London to court to oppose Ulez on a range of grounds, including challenging the legal basis for the decision to expand the scheme, questioning the level of information provided in the consultation process and claiming the mayor had a responsibility to mitigate the impact of the change. 

The court ruled in favour of the mayor, with the judge, Mr Justice Swift, saying: “The councils’ challenge fails on all three grounds and is dismissed.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan welcomed the decision and said: “This landmark decision is good news as it means we can proceed with cleaning up the air in outer London on 29th August.

“The decision to expand the Ulez was very difficult and not something I took lightly and I continue to do everything possible to address any concerns Londoners may have.

“The Ulez has already reduced toxic nitrogen dioxide air pollution by nearly half in central London and a fifth in inner London. The coming expansion will see five million more Londoners being able to breathe cleaner air.”

Environmental campaigners are also celebrated the ruling. Hirra Khan Adeogun, co-director of climate charity Possible, said: “It’s fantastic that we can get on with the expansion of the Ulez, which is sorely needed to tackle our overreliance on cars and improve air quality in the capital. 

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“More Londoners support the Ulez expansion than oppose it, and it’s easy to see why. It will bring down toxic air pollution, and it will protect everyone – especially vulnerable children – from the negative effects of car emissions.

“Politicians of all parties should show the same political courage and start taking their role as climate leaders seriously by taking action to clean the air across the country.”

However, the mayor’s Conservative opponent in the 2024 mayoral election, Susan Hall AM, expressed her disappointment at the result and reiterated her pledge to reverse the expansion if elected next year. She said: “While it is a shame the High Court did not find the Ulez expansion to be unlawful, there is no denying that Sadiq Khan’s plans will have a devastating impact on families and businesses across the city.

“If I am elected mayor, I will stop the Ulez expansion on day one.” 

Joanne McCartney, the London Assembly member for Enfield and Haringey, added: “This is good news for clean air in London. It will prevent children growing up with stunted lungs, other health conditions and reduce hospital admissions. The scrappage scheme is extending to cover a million more families and small businesses w up to 50 employees.”

The Liberal Democrats at City Hall called on the mayor to improve the provisions of the scrappage scheme put in place to enable drivers to buy Ulez compliant cars. Their transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon said: “We support action to clean up London’s air, but this must be done with adequate financial support to help people through any changes.

“We will continue to push Sadiq Khan to introduce a more generous scrappage scheme and for a longer lead in time for the scheme to be introduced.”

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