The High Court has deemed the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) to outer London boroughs to be lawful. Five Conservative-run councils had challenged the expansion in February, arguing that the capital’s Labour mayor had exceeded his legal authority. The ULEZ expansion, which will come into effect on August 29, will charge drivers of highly polluting vehicles £12.50 per day for their use. Proponents of the scheme hope it will incentivize the use of cleaner transportation options and improve the city’s air quality. Transport for London has stated that the majority of vehicles in the affected areas already comply with ULEZ requirements.
The councils also claimed that the consultation process for the expansion was flawed, and that insufficient information had been provided about the vehicle scrappage scheme associated with the ULEZ expansion. While some aspects of the challenge were dismissed earlier in the year, the High Court granted the councils a hearing, which took place over two days. This ruling follows a recent local by-election in which the ULEZ debate played a significant role.
Although the Conservative candidate emerged as the victor in the by-election, with a significantly reduced majority, the campaign became centered on ULEZ. This has caused turmoil within the Labour Party, with Sir Keir Starmer calling for a reevaluation of the policy’s implications. However, Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, remains committed to the ULEZ expansion, citing the urgent need to address air pollution. Following the High Court ruling, Khan referred to it as a “landmark” decision that will allow progress in cleaning up London’s air.
While the legal challenge may have been unsuccessful, political obstacles remain, with Labour facing internal divisions over the ULEZ expansion. The Tories, on the other hand, hope to turn next year’s mayoral elections into a referendum on the ULEZ. Additionally, the ULEZ policy has led to debates within the Conservative Party about the transition to net zero and its impact on the cost of living.