Andrew Tettenborn

How the Tories can avoid falling into Sadiq Khan’s Ulez trap

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan [Getty]

Sadiq Khan has an inveterate desire to show Londoners who is boss: the mayor’s latest wheeze is an expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez). Khan is seeking to roll out Ulez to all of London’s boroughs from August – along the leafy lanes of Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. 

Aside from ostentatious green zealotry, it’s difficult to see any convincing argument in favour of doing so. These areas already have sparser public transport than the rest of London. Charging hard-pressed residents who are unable to afford a fancy car £12.50 a day for the privilege of driving to the station to catch a sustainable train is a slap in the face. It could also backfire by encouraging them to do the whole run by car. Knocking that daily charge from the profits of carriers making home deliveries will also impoverish both them and residents hit with higher prices. 

An argument that Khan is acting illegally is apt to fall flat

A number of outer boroughs – some, but not all, Tory – have vowed to fight the plan. The boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Hillingdon and Harrow are considering clubbing together to launch a legal challenge. This backlash is understandable. But these boroughs should pause a moment and think again. Even if expanding the Ulez scheme is a mistake taking the fight to the courts is a bad idea.

Why? Because any legal challenge faces an uphill battle to succeed: going against social policy and environmental decisions of this sort in court is not easy. True, a challenge could triumph (decisions on judicial review are often unpredictable), but it will probably fail; and even if it succeeds it may well be possible to bring the scheme back with the legal glitches removed.

If it fails, the costs are likely to be big.

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