Legal battle erupts as London’s vehicle pollution fee expansion faces opposition


A UK court is set to deliberate on Tuesday regarding the controversial plans to extend London’s vehicle pollution fee scheme. As opposition grows, protests and acts of sabotage have taken place, intensifying the contentious debate.

The High Court case arrives just weeks before the scheduled expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), initiated by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. First implemented in 2019, this scheme operates independently from the city’s longstanding congestion charge and mandates a £12.50 ($16) toll for highly polluting vehicles driven within inner London.

The forthcoming expansion of the ULEZ to encompass all of Greater London from August 29 has triggered a vehement backlash from residents residing in and around the newly included areas. Those failing to pay the fee could face fines of up to £160 per day.

Amid the uproar, Chris Fordham, a 62-year-old self-employed builder who frequently commutes into the capital, expressed his dissatisfaction, stating, “It ain’t right. They’re hitting working class people again.” Fordham, driving a non-compliant 2012 diesel van, revealed his consideration of quitting work due to the impending charge and rising expenses.

Numerous local authorities in outer London, along with Surrey County Council, have lodged a legal challenge against Khan’s decision to expand the ULEZ. However, environmental group Greenpeace criticized their efforts, arguing that they should focus on reducing air pollution instead of opposing a crucial anti-pollution measure.

Despite a public consultation indicating majority opposition among Londoners, Khan, who was re-elected for a second term in 2021, proceeded with the new measure in November. The mayor, aged 52, remains steadfast in his belief that the extended ULEZ will contribute to mitigating the city’s “toxic air pollution,” which is responsible for numerous annual deaths and debilitating illnesses. Khan, who developed adult-onset asthma nine years ago, attributes it to decades of breathing London’s polluted air.

In a groundbreaking ruling last year, a coroner concluded that vehicle emissions and the resulting poor air quality played a significant role in the death of a nine-year-old London girl who suffered a severe asthma attack.

London’s ULEZ aligns with similar low-emission zones implemented in over 200 cities across ten European countries to enhance air quality. Vehicles registered before specific emission standards were introduced, such as petrol cars pre-2006 and diesel vehicles pre-September 2015, are unlikely to meet the required criteria.

Transport for London (TfL), a local government body, estimates that fewer than 200,000 such vehicles currently enter the new zone based on existing ULEZ camera analysis. However, the RAC motoring group, through a freedom of information request, discovered that over 850,000 non-compliant vehicles are registered within London alone.

Khan contends that a significant portion of those vehicles is not actually driven within the capital. To assist eligible vehicle owners, he launched a scrappage scheme providing partial funding. Critics argue that the scheme falls short of adequately addressing the issue.

Affected individuals, grappling with the UK’s worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, find themselves in a difficult position. Sarah Farmer, a pregnant mother-of-one from Swanley near London, who frequently travels into the city for work and family visits in her 2003 Ford Mondeo, remarked, “It’s the wrong time with the cost of living. They need to give people more help.”

Amid mounting opposition, more than 200 enforcement cameras have been subjected to acts of sabotage, according to TfL. In response, London’s Metropolitan Police have launched a proactive operation and have already charged two individuals in May.

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