ULEZ: Grant Shapps urged Sadiq Khan to expand Congestion Charge Zone to North and South Circulars

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Sadiq Khan rejected an expansion of the Congestion Charge Zone in 2021, saying the “blunt approach” would have a “catastrophic effect” on London’s economy.

Former transport secretary Grant Shapps proposed expanding the central London Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) to cover the whole of inner London, documents reveal.

In documents published via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, Mr Shapps in October 2020 suggested the CCZ be expanded at the same time as the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), in October 2021.

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At this point, the ULEZ was widened beyond central London to incorporate everything up to the North and South Circular roads. This remains its current boundary, until it is expanded on August 29 to cover the whole of greater London.

The letter, sent by Mr Shapps to the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on October 1, 2020 was part of correspondence relating to funding agreements between Transport for London (TfL) and the government during the pandemic.

In the letter, Mr Shapps referred to the May 2020, deal struck to the tune of £1.6 billion, which helped TfL continue operating during a period of drastically reduced demand.

He also detailed several proposals and expectations the Department for Transport (DfT) had of TfL to ensure financial stability moving forwards, relating to topics including fares increases.

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Grant Shapps, the current energy security and net zero secretary, was the transport secretary at the time the letter was sent in October 2020. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images.Grant Shapps, the current energy security and net zero secretary, was the transport secretary at the time the letter was sent in October 2020. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images.
Grant Shapps, the current energy security and net zero secretary, was the transport secretary at the time the letter was sent in October 2020. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images. | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

On the CCZ, Mr Shapps wrote: “We propose that you maintain the congestion charge at its current level and hours of operation, and returning the tightening of the Low Emission Zone for lorries and coaches as close as possible to your original starting date of October 26 2020.

“Given the significant rise in congestion in inner London, we also propose the extension of the central London congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone and at the same time, October 2021.”

The CCZ, which was introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003, fixes a £15 charge on all vehicles entering central London during certain hours.

If it were to be extended, as Mr Shapps proposed, to cover all of inner London alongside the ULEZ, it would have meant all vehicles which were not ULEZ-compliant within the larger zone would have been liable for both charges, totalling £27.50 per day.

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The current ULEZ, showing the area Grant Shapps proposed expanding the Congestion Charge Zone to. Credit: TfL.The current ULEZ, showing the area Grant Shapps proposed expanding the Congestion Charge Zone to. Credit: TfL.
The current ULEZ, showing the area Grant Shapps proposed expanding the Congestion Charge Zone to. Credit: TfL. | TfL

In response, Mr Khan said he did not accept the transport secretary’s recommendations, and that “this blunt approach would have a catastrophic effect on the economy of inner London and beyond, at a time when our focus must be on recovery; and it would rightly be bitterly opposed by business groups, communities, and local authorities of all political colours”.

“In addition, this proposal would not have any material financial impact on the short-term funding package you have chosen to propose, and where attention should be focused,” he wote. “As it is, the condition imposed by the Government to bring forward proposals to widen the level and scope of the congestion charge is a factor in businesses in central London seeing reduced custom particularly at weekends.”

A DfT spokesperson said the government did not impose the extension of the ULEZ to all of greater London on the mayor, and that all transport decisions are devolved.

The 2020 letter from Mr Shapps related to the last expansion, in October 2021, of the ULEZ to the North and South Circular roads.

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The mayor’s reservations towards Mr Shapps’ proposals echo concerns raised by critics of his planned widening of the ULEZ on August 29.

However, the mayor, and TfL, argue that the extension of the clean-air zone is necessary, due to issues of air pollution in the capital’s outer boroughs, which are not currently covered by either the ULEZ or the CCZ.

City Hall was approached for comment, but said it had nothing to add.

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