ULEZ: Opposition to expansion ‘a lot stronger’ than previous changes, says deputy mayor Seb Dance

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Seb Dance said while there has been push-back to the ULEZ expansion, polling shows “a majority” of Londoners are in favour of taking action to improve air quality.

London’s deputy mayor for transport said the opposition to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expansion has been “a lot stronger” than that experienced ahead of previous changes, though he remains confident it is “the right thing to do”.

Seb Dance, who began in his role in January 2022 having previously been a member of the European Parliament, told LondonWorld that while he joined just after the previous widening of the zone, in October 2021, his “impression” was that there has been more push-back this time around.

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Sadiq Khan’s decision to expand the zone to cover the whole of greater London on August 29 has been widely critiqued, largely due to its implementation in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

Once rolled out, most drivers of non-compliant vehicles will have to pay a £12.50 daily charge. City Hall and Transport for London (TfL) say nine in ten cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already compliant, with exemptions and grace periods also in-place for certain groups.

Multiple protests, plus an unsuccessful High Court challenge launched by five Conservative councils, have been held since Mr Khan announced the expansion last November.

The Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, even waded in, requesting the mayor “reflect” on the expansion following the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election in July.

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Asked how the opposition has been felt within City Hall, Mr Dance said: “My impression is the campaign this time around has been a lot stronger than previously. But the other thing that’s very, very clear, certainly in the polling that we do and the response that we get from Londoners, is there is a majority in favour of taking tough action on air quality.”

Seb Dance, the deputy mayor for transport, said the opposition against the current ULEZ expansion has “been a lot stronger” than previous extensions. Credit: Ben Lynch.Seb Dance, the deputy mayor for transport, said the opposition against the current ULEZ expansion has “been a lot stronger” than previous extensions. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Seb Dance, the deputy mayor for transport, said the opposition against the current ULEZ expansion has “been a lot stronger” than previous extensions. Credit: Ben Lynch. | Ben Lynch

Mr Dance himself has received calls for further support for those due to be impacted by the zone’s expansion. Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, recently wrote to Mr Dance asking for exemptions for patients, staff and volunteers at St Francis Hospice.

On Mr Cruddas’ letter, Mr Dance said: “We will look at comments from Jon and others and take on board all and every suggestion which we have incidentally done throughout this process, which is why the scrappage scheme has evolved over many, many weeks.”

Mr Dance said he “suspects” the opposition will die down once the expanded ULEZ is in place, though added: “I’ve been in politics a while, I know what it’s like. We do the right things for the reasons that we set out, and all we can do is stand up for what we want to do and what we believe in.

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“The mayor believes very strongly in cleaning up the air. You may have seen he released a book recently about it. He’s been on a journey in terms of his politics on this. And ultimately that’s what he’s set out to do, and people will judge him when the time comes at the polls.”

Beyond the politics of the ULEZ expansion, Mr Dance said there is a legal component, due to the Greater London Authority (GLA) being “mandated” to clean up the capital’s air.

“So it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision - the mayor has been very clear that it’s not an easy decision that he took - but we have the mitigation measures in place. We have provided that support for the most vulnerable Londoners, and are now extending that to every Londoner with a non-ULEZ-compliant vehicle. And, ultimately, it’s the right thing to do.”

‘Big increase’ in scrappage scheme applications

With just a few days until the ULEZ is expanded, Mr Dance said TfL and the GLA are “very confident” that everything is in-place ready for August 29.

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The call centre has doubled in size, and turnarounds for those applying for support via the scrappage scheme are now “extremely quick”, he said.

He said there has been a “big increase” already in the money being distributed via the scheme since it was widened to include all Londoners with a non-compliant car or motorbike on August 21.

“It’s there, and really we want to help as many people as possible clean up the air in London.”

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