ULEZ and new clean air schemes

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London is due to expand on 29th August out to the M25 orbital. But a recent court case brought by local councils has left the scheme hanging in the balance. We explain what is happening with ULEZ and how similar initiatives could be popping up in more places across the UK.

You can check to see if a vehicle is ULEZ compliant by running a free Total Car Check

What is the ULEZ?

ULEZ is a London emission charging scheme. It is administered by Transport for London (TfL) – a local government transport agency. The key facts:

  • The scheme levies a charge of £12.50 a day, and if not paid, up to £180 penalty for any non-compliant vehicle that enters the ULEZ.
  • To avoid the ULEZ charge vehicles must meet ULEZ emission standards. Most commercial vehicles weighing over 3.5 tonnes, buses, coaches and mini-buses are exempt from the scheme. They are covered by a separate London Emission Zone (LEZ) scheme. 
  • ULEZ operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, except on Christmas Day (25 December).
  • ULEZ runs in addition to the London Congestion Charge which covers Central London only. So if you have a vehicle which is not ULEZ compliant then driving into Central London could lead to you paying charges under both schemes.
  • ULEZ currently covers the area encircled by the North and South Circular roads in London.
ULEZ sign in front of London Bridge

How is ULEZ being expanded?

The ULEZ area is set to grow to cover the entirety of Greater London from 29 August 2023. The ULEZ charging area will come out as far as the M25 (and further) in places. A map of the expanded ULEZ area is available on the TfL website. The expansion was approved and announced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan in November 2022.

Scrappage scheme

To assist with the transition TfL has been operating a scrappage scheme. Eligible applicants can receive up to £2,000 for scrapping a non-compliant car and £1,000 for a motorcycle. For wheelchair accessible vehicles TfL provide up to £5,000 to retrofit.

Why is legal action being taken against the Mayor?

The London borough councils of Bexley, Bromley, Hillingdon and Harrow and Surrey County Council have all joined forces to undertake legal action against the Mayor. All claim the scheme will harm their local economies and increase the cost of living for residents.

But the councils also argue the way the Mayor has rolled out the expansion is unlawful too. A hearing took place in early July 2023 where the High Court heard evidence. These were their main lines of argument:

The Mayor has exceeded his powers – the expanded ULEZ area will be 16 times larger than the current ULEZ. Therefore the councils say the change constituted introducing a new emissions scheme altogether.

The initial consultation was flawed – the Mayor undertook a 10 week public consultation to canvass views for and against the ULEZ expansion. The councils claim that over this period important information was unclear, misleading or not disclosed to the public that could have impacted on the feedback received. This included concerns about the reported number of vehicles that were non-compliant entering into the ULEZ.

Details on the scrappage scheme were unclear – the councils say that responses from Londoners to the consultation were influenced by misleading information about the scrappage scheme’s eligibility. They have also challenged why the consultation was not circulated to those on the London border and just outside who are affected by ULEZ, but not eligible to use the scheme.

When will the High Court make a judgment?

The court sessions in early July were to hear the arguments, and receive evidence, from both the councils and Mayor’s representatives. The judge (Mr Justice Swift) said he would ‘do his best to get a judgment done and delivered’ by the end of July 2023.

What could be the result if the judge rules that the ULEZ expansion is unlawful?

It’s uncertain what the outcome will be as the case is somewhat unprecedented. It would be unlikely that the ULEZ expansion would be scrapped altogether. But plans for its introduction could be delayed and certain aspects of the scheme might need to be changed. If the judgment considers the expansion to be legal then it will likely go ahead on 29th August.

Will similar ULEZ schemes pop up in other parts of the UK?

There are already Clean Air Zones (CAZ) operating in several major UK cities across the UK. But in over 300 designated green areas in England UK councils could be forced to take action to maintain or improve air quality where they seek to erect new housing.

Epping Forest is one area of natural beauty where the local authority is required to have plans for a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) to be introduced. If it doesn’t then new housing developments will be blocked by Natural England – a Government agency that has powers to protect rural areas across England.

On the one hand, where this activity occurs, it should improve the local environment for new home residents. But it may require that they purchase or lease a new vehicle if their existing model doesn’t meet the local emission standards. All new homes must now be built with an electric vehicle (EV) charger, so this may be deemed a another opportunity to encourage EV usership.

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