The Spectator

Ulez expansion has gone ahead in defiance of evidence

[Getty Images]

London’s Ulez scheme has been expanded. A new network of cameras filming the traffic movements of millions of Londoners is now switched on. Old cars and vans, often used by sole traders, will be charged £12.50 a day if they pull out of their driveways. Keir Starmer had asked the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ‘reflect’ on the policy after Labour lost the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. Khan duly did, and concluded that he would stick to plan A. With 4,000 Londoners dying of air pollution every year, he said he had no option.

But if that figure is correct, why has air pollution been mentioned in only one death certificate in four years? Nationally, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have fallen 75 per cent over the past three decades, thanks to cleaner car engines. Academic studies suggest London’s air was 20 times more polluted in the 17th century than it is now. The truth is that, far from the much-touted ‘emergency’, the air in the capital has not been purer since long before the industrial revolution. So what meaningful difference would be made by an expanded Ulez zone?

The real effect of low-emission zones remains a mystery that a great many people have no interest in resolving

Khan has sought to answer this with a study his office published on the effects of the first six months of Ulez in central London. It claimed that NO2 levels had fallen 36 per cent since a similar period in 2017. Adjusting for the clean-air trend, Ulez could claim credit for reducing NO2 by 29 per cent. If these figures were true, they would indeed make a clear-cut case for expanding Ulez.

But dig deeper, and it becomes murkier. When challenged on the figures, the Mayor has said he is citing world-class academics. The study was actually conducted by his own office.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in