Havering Council agrees on opposition to ULEZ expansion

A call to “stop” the Mayor of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) expansion and “oppose” future road charging plans received cross-party support at Havering Town Hall yesterday (August 30).

Councillors from the four main political groups met for an extraordinary council meeting to debate the expansion of ULEZ to the edge of Greater London.

The motion, approved without a vote, said Havering Council recognises the “harm” road charging schemes could have on residents on low incomes, the local workforce, small businesses and charities.

It also called on the Mayor of London, who controls Transport for London, to “invest” in local public transport and active travel infrastructure to give Havering residents a “real choice” between cars and other forms of transport.

Councillors from both the Havering Residents Association (HRA) and Conservative groups raised personal stories of residents or regular visitors to the borough who had written to them.

They said many feel expanding the scheme is unfair on those who will not be able to afford the charge or to change their vehicle.

Council leader Ray Morgon said the Havering Residents Association has “never” supported the ULEZ expansion and argued that the borough’s air quality is “very good”.

He pointed out that although there are pollution hotspots in the borough, such as the M25, higher-polluting cars on the motorway will not be affected by the scheme.

The leader said: “We know that the air quality improvement for Havering is going to be quite marginal, but we do know for many, many people the impact on their lives is going to be quite severe, whether that’s financial or equally social.”

He added that his “main concern” is workers from nearby areas who may decide that driving into Havering is “no longer worth their while”.

He said that it was “certainly the wrong time” to bring in the charge and that he originally hoped that Mayor of London would delay introducing the scheme until 2026.

Labour leader Keith Darvill’s group, who are in coalition with the HRA, appeared to oppose the Labour Mayor of London’s policy by approving the motion to “stop the expansion of ULEZ”.

However, Cllr Darvill said it was “disappointing” that the debate lacked support for improving air quality.

He pointed out that the government has brought in a policy requiring councils to publish air quality action plans “so that less [residents] get ill and put more pressure on the health service”.

The Labour group leader also claimed that the Mayor of London “does not intend” to introduce a road charging scheme as it would most likely be a national scheme. He said that a road user charging scheme may be needed in the future if electric vehicles cause the government to lose income from fuel duty.

Public consultation questions on the ULEZ expansion featured two questions from the Mayor about a “future road user charging scheme”, suggesting he is seriously considering such a policy in the future.

David Taylor, who began the debate for the Conservatives, said residents are “angry” with all political groups in the town hall.

He added: “They feel let down, betrayed and they feel like they’ve been used in political games and this is not good enough.

“And they feel this for a good reason because each and every one of us could have done more to oppose the regressive, damaging dictatorial policy.

“The horse has bolted but there is a whole herd of them heading for the door and we must slam it shut.

“The Mayor and TfL’s pay-per-mile scheme would simply be another tax.

“This is another example of the surveillance state, another attack on our freedoms and another tax on our movement.”

The Conservatives’ motion condemning the ULEZ expansion was eventually rejected by the HRA-Labour dominated council in favour of a motion calling upon the Mayor to “stop” it.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor has been clear that the decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide was not an easy one, but necessary to tackle toxic air pollution.

“Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air pollution, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.

“Outer London deserves to see the same benefits from the ULEZ as inner London and by expanding the ULEZ, five million more Londoners will be able to breathe cleaner air.

“Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in the expanded zone on an average day won’t have to pay a penny and all Londoners with a non-compliant car are now eligible for thousands of pounds of help.

“The Mayor has been clear that there are no proposals on the table to replace existing road charges with a single scheme and the technology required for a single scheme is many years away.”

They added that bus enhancements in Havering include increasing the 174 frequency, increasing the capacity on route 25, providing additional capacity on route 499 and increasing the N15 frequency at weekends.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter