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Government Should Have Power to Stop London ULEZ Expansion, Tory MP Says

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The UK government should be given the power to review and overturn controversial transport schemes introduced by the mayor of London, a Conservative MP has proposed.

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said the government should have the power to intervene when there are “very serious concerns” about decisions relating to transport and air quality, such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to expand the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) around the capital.

Epoch Times Photo
Undated file photo of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan re-opening the Bank branch of the Northern line at Monument Station in London. (Aaron Chown/PA)

Villiers, who represents Chipping Barnet, said her proposals could apply to other projects including low traffic neighbourhoods and moves to build on station car parks.

She will seek to introduce the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (Amendment) Bill in the House of Commons through the 10-minute rule motion procedure, though it is unlikely to become law in its current form.

ULEZ

The ULEZ is an area in which vehicles that do not meet certain emissions standards must pay a daily charge of £12.50 ($15) to drive or face fines.

The scheme currently operates in the areas within London’s North and South Circular roads, covering 4 million people, or around 44 percent of the capital’s population.

In November 2022, Transport for London announced that it will push on with proposals to expand the scheme to the whole of Greater London from Aug. 29, 2023, forcing more than 200,000 motorists to pay the daily charge.

To avoid the ULEZ fee, diesel vehicles, which make up the vast majority of vans—must be Euro 6 standard, which generally covers those registered from 2016.

A delivery van driver or tradesperson entering the zone in an older van every working day will rack up more than £3,100 a year in charges.

Drivers who fail to pay face a £160 penalty each day, which is halved if paid within a fortnight.

Intervention Called For

Villiers, who previously served as the UK government’s Northern Ireland secretary and environment secretary, said that there has been “unhappiness” with the ULEZ expansion and a number of the other “controversial transport schemes” the London mayor has introduced.

She said many people in her Chipping Barnet constituency “would like the government to be able to step in and ask the mayor to think again.”

Epoch Times Photo
Theresa Villiers speaking to the media on College Green, in Westminster, London, on Feb. 27, 2023. (Yui Mok/PA Media)

“The mayor of London’s decisions do have an impact on people living outside London as well,” she added.

Under the devolution settlement with London, local transport is one of the mayor’s devolved responsibilities.

Villiers acknowledged that “some people will say you can’t interfere with the devolution settlement,” but she said, “decisions on our capital city can have a massive impact on millions of people who commute in and out, as well as the UK’s economy as a whole.”

Therefore, she said: “I think there is a place for intervention by ministers. I’m not saying this should happen as a matter of routine. But where there are very serious concerns about the decision by the mayor of London, I think it’s legitimate for my constituents to want the government to step in and ask that the mayor does something different.”

The former minister added, “Of course we all want to improve air quality in London—there is an air quality issue that needs to be addressed—but this is the wrong scheme at the wrong time.”

Villiers said the ULEZ expansion will have a “very limited impact” on cleaning up the air, but “will have a really tough impact on many people who are probably already struggling with rising prices and also on small businesses who may be dependent on vans and they simply can’t run a business using the public transport network.”

Local Opposition

The ULEZ expansion plan has faced fierce opposition from some local councils, which argue that it will disproportionately affect lower-income households and small businesses.

In February, five Conservative-led councils in outer London—Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon, and Surrey County Council—started a legal challenge against the decision on the grounds that “relevant statutory requirements” were not complied with, expected compliance rates in outer London were not considered, and the proposed scrappage scheme was not consulted on.

Epoch Times Photo
An anti-ULEZ protest organised by the Together Declaration in London, on April 15, 2023. (Owen Evans/The Epoch Times)

They also raised concerns about thousands of cameras using Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology to detect entry being fitted across London without warning.

Last month, the High Court authorised the legal challenge to go ahead.

A spokeswoman for the London mayor told The Epoch Times by email that the judicial review was “misguided.”

The mayor claims that each year 4,000 Londoners “die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs.”

His spokeswoman said, “It is a shame that some local authorities have chosen to attempt this costly and misguided legal challenge instead of focusing on the health of those they represent.”

“This is a health emergency and the mayor is not prepared to stand by and do nothing while Londoners are growing up with stunted lungs and are more at risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia due to our toxic air,” she added.

Owen Evans and PA Media contributed to this report.



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