ULEZ: What has Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said about clean air zones?

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From his ‘Climate Justice’ pledge to asking Sadiq Khan to “reflect” on his ULEZ expansion, we look at some of the ways in which the Labour leader’s stance on clean air schemes may have changed.

While London mayor Sadiq Khan has stood firm on his commitment to expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), it is safe to say the national Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has been less consistent in his attitude towards clean-air schemes.

Under Mr Khan’s planned extension of the ULEZ, everyone driving a non-compliant vehicle in greater London will, from August 29, be liable to pay a £12.50 daily charge.

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While support has come via groups such as doctors and environmental campaigners, as well as polls showing more Londoners are in support of the ULEZ than against it, the mayor has received significant hostility from some quarters.

And some of that pressure recently has come from members of his own party, including Sir Keir.

When running to become leader of the Labour Party in 2020, the former barrister had ‘Climate Justice’ as one of his 10 pledges, key to which was a Clean Air Act he said would aim to “tackle pollution locally”.

But what has he said about clean air zones more recently, and has his position changed?

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Sir Keir Starmer had ‘Climate Justice’ as one of his 10 pledges when running to be the Labour leader, key to which was a Clean Air Act “to tackle pollution locally”. Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.Sir Keir Starmer had ‘Climate Justice’ as one of his 10 pledges when running to be the Labour leader, key to which was a Clean Air Act “to tackle pollution locally”. Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.
Sir Keir Starmer had ‘Climate Justice’ as one of his 10 pledges when running to be the Labour leader, key to which was a Clean Air Act “to tackle pollution locally”. Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images. | Getty Images

‘Legal obligation’

In early July this year, Sir Keir told a listener on LBC that Mr Khan had “no choice” but to expand the ULEZ “because of the legal obligation on him”.

While saying Danny Beales, Labour’s unsuccessful candidate in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, was “right” to “stand up” for his potential constituents who would be hit by the additional charge, he added the mayor had to act due to the levels of air pollution in the capital.

He said: “My experience of the mayor is he always listens to these overtures and that is why he has asked for more money on scrappage.

“I’ve looked at it myself, looked at the legal provision. I think it is difficult to say you could simply ignore the legal requirement to do something about this, so the mayor in fairness is between a rock and a hard place on this.”

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The London mayor Sadiq Khan has come under pressure from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over his planned ULEZ expansion. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.The London mayor Sadiq Khan has come under pressure from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over his planned ULEZ expansion. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images.
The London mayor Sadiq Khan has come under pressure from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over his planned ULEZ expansion. Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images. | Getty Images

Uxbridge and South Ruislip

While not necessarily the biggest ULEZ supporter prior to the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, Sir Keir’s stance took a decided left-turn following the Tory hold of the seat on July 20.

Despite the Conservative majority falling from around 7,000 to just 495, the anti-ULEZ vote has been widely seen as key to Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell defeating Mr Beales.

After the result, Sir Keir publicly called on Mr Khan to “reflect” on the impact of the ULEZ expansion.

He said: “Uxbridge was always going to be tough. We knew that. We didn’t take Uxbridge in 1997. We knew that ULEZ was going to be an issue and of course we all need to reflect on that, including the mayor.”

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He did later back Mr Khan’s calls for government funding for the ULEZ scrappage scheme, and urged the mayor to “look more broadly” at extra support and mitigations. Soon after this, Mr Khan announced a major expansion to the scrappage scheme, including widening it to all Londoners with non-compliant vehicles.

‘Ditching’ clean air zone policies

A major story which broke in the last week was that Labour had reportedly ditched plans to roll out clean air zones, similar to the ULEZ, to cities across the country.

The Telegraph reported that a section from a report debated at last month’s National Policy Forum (NPF) had allegedly been removed before the event, in which the party said it supports “the principle of clean air zones”.

A Labour source told the Daily Mail that clean air zones are “Conservative government policy”, and that “Labour is not in favour of extra burdens on drivers during a Tory-made cost of living crisis”.

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LondonWorld contacted the party for comment at the time, but received no response.

And last Monday (August 14), when asked by broadcasters about Labour’s stance on clean-air zones, Sir Keir said: “Let me tell you what I want to change: I want clean air. I don’t think anybody in this country should be breathing dirty air.”

Echoing the language used by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, when discussing climate change, Sir Keir continued: “What I don’t want is schemes that disproportionately impact on people in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis, so we need to look at options for achieving what we all need to achieve.”

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