London steps up the battle against toxic air

London’s battle against toxic air will be stepped up this autumn with the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

While the move should deliver clear health benefits for millions of people in the capital, many Londoners for the first time will have to check their vehicle emissions, pay the charge, or change the way they travel.

The area covered will be 18 times larger as the scheme boundaries push out from central London to create a single larger zone up to the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205) from October 25th. These roads are not themselves included in the zone, so vehicles using them and not going into the ULEZ will not be charged.

The daily ULEV charge is currently £12.50 for most vehicle types, including cars, motorcycles and vans (up to and including 3.5 tonnes), and £100 for heavier vehicles, including lorries (over 3.5 tonnes) and buses/coaches (over 5 tonnes).

Tighter emissions standards

Drivers of petrol or diesel vehicles will also need to meet the tighter emissions standards or pay a daily charge when they enter the ULEZ and even a short trip in the zone using a vehicle that does not meet the ULEZ emissions standards, will have to pay the daily change. However, drivers who have cars parked in the zone but not driving them will not need to pay. The ULEZ is in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round (except Christmas Day).

Launched nearly two years ago, the ULEZ requires vehicles driving in the ULEZ to meet tight emission standards or pay the daily charge. It is a main element of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s strategy to improve the health of people living in London. Studies indicate that the noxious air leads to early deaths of thousands of people every year.

Also this year there will be changes to the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and the Congestion Charge (C-Charge). This means that London will have three different road-charging schemes, affecting everyone who drives in London for work or pleasure.

The Congestion Charge (C-Charge) that applies to central London only changes from October 25th so that hybrid vehicles are no longer exempt, while the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) changes for Greater London from Monday, March 1st, 2021 mean that standards to be met by vehicles will match those of ULEZ.

Anyone driving in the ULEZ zone, or who owns a vehicle and lives in the zone should check to see if they are affected by using the free online vehicle checker



Deadly vehicle pollution

According to data from the Mayor’s office, thousands of Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution. It is a cause of cancer and increases the risk of asthma, stroke and dementia.

The Mayor’s office says:

“Pollution is also stunting the growth of children’s lungs in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. And it’s not just a central London problem. 99 per cent of Londoners in the capital live in areas exceeding World Health Organization guidelines for the most dangerous toxic particles.”

Official data advises that since the introduction of ULEZ:

  • There are 44,100 fewer polluting cars driving in the zone every day, and toxic NO2 concentrations have been reduced by 44 per cent
  • The number of state primary and secondary schools in areas exceeding legal limits for NO2  fell from 455 in 2016 to 14 in 2019, a reduction of 97 per cent.
  • ULEZ has saved around 12,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Tesla EV Cable

Poor EV strategy

The push to discourage internal combustion engine travel in the capital, and encourage electric vehicle adoption comes at the same time as the National Audit Office (NAO) released a stinging report on the lack of government focus around EV strategy for the UK.

Basically, the NAO forcefully underlines the incoherent and at times non-existent long-term planning for the transition to a transport system free from fossil-fuel pollution.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO said:

“The number of ultra-low emission cars on UK roads has increased, but meeting the government’s ambitious targets to phase out new petrol and diesel cars in less than a decade still requires a major transition for consumers, car makers and those responsible for charging infrastructure.

“Government now has the opportunity to reflect on what has gone well and better target its interventions and spending to secure this fundamental change and deliver the carbon reduction required.”

The NAO urges the Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles, the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to jointly create a long-term strategy to decarbonise road vehicles and report regularly on progress against clear milestones.

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