In an EXCLUSIVE interview with Asian Voice, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the issues of toxic air and the climate crisis must be above party, despite facing severe criticism for Ulez, including from his own party leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

Shefali Saxena Wednesday 09th August 2023 11:39 EDT

An Army veteran, Prabhdeep Singh, from Uxbridge has reportedly launched a fight back against London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), by going on hunger strike for a week. 

The Ulez scheme hits thousands of people in London, who commute in diesel vehicles older than 2015 or petrol vehicles older than 2006 with a charge of £12.50 a day that can go upto £4,500 a year. The charge for non-complying vehicles currently applies to inner London only but on 29 August it will affect all 32 boroughs of London. 

Mayor Sadiq Khan has however unveiled a revision to the scrappage program linked to the expanding of Ulez, extending its accessibility to all London residents owning non-compliant Ulez vehicles. The Mayor characterises these modifications as a significant amplification of the initiative. This change coincides with the injection of an additional £50 million into the pre-existing £110 million fund, drawn from City Hall's reserves.

In a recent development, as Mr Khan secured victory in a High Court dispute against five Conservative-led councils that aimed to declare his proposed Ulez expansion as unlawful, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak advised the Mayor of London to reconsider his plans for expanding the Ulez to outer London. Mr Sunak expressed his reservations, characterising the proposed expansion as an "unnecessary additional tax" at a time when inflation is already straining households. He highlighted that this move could potentially burden families as they engage in daily activities such as grocery shopping, school runs, or medical appointments.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also shared his perspective on the matter, urging the Mayor to rethink the expansion in light of the Conservatives' by-election victory in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. 

The division surrounding the scheme is amplified by higher car usage in Greater London and adjacent areas, where public transport options especially at late nights are limited. Detractors contend that essential trips will inevitably incur charges. 

Amid criticism for his Ulez strategy, in an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, the Mayor said that the unfortunate reality is that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Londoners suffer the worst consequences of toxic air and explained there is a good reason for him to “not step back, delay or water down vital green policies like Ulez.”


AV: How challenging is it for you to articulate the benefits of Ulez is to the community, while they grapple with the heavy price that comes with it economically?


Mayor: I’ve always been clear that expanding the Ulez to the whole of London was a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly – but it’s a decision I remain committed to seeing through. I’m not prepared to step back, delay or water down vital green policies like Ulez.

There is very good reason for that – around 4000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to air pollution, children are growing up with stunted lungs, and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.  

It’s important that all Londoners are aware that the Ulez is a very targeted scheme. Nine out of ten cars seen driving on an average day in outer London are already Ulez-compliant, which means that only a very small minority of drivers may have to pay the £12.50 charge.

I’m always listening and trying to mitigate the impact of expanding the Ulez on the small proportion of Londoners with non-complaint vehicles, while still tackling air quality and the climate crisis. That’s why last week I announced that TfL is making changes to the scrappage scheme to make every Londoner with a non-compliant car eligible for the £2,000 payment to get rid of their polluting cars. Sole traders and small businesses will also be eligible to scrap or retrofit up to three vehicles with grants worth up to £21,000 and charities already are able to do so.

I know that many businesses and Londoners are struggling as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. That’s why TfL is now expanding the scrappage scheme to help more Londoners and I am planning to increase the amount of funding available by £50m to £160m.


AV: South Asians since time immemorial have been practising sustainable living methods that are environment friendly. Yet, the community may find it difficult at the start to understand and cooperate in implementing Ulez. What’s your take on that?


Mayor: One of London’s greatest strengths is our diversity, and I am incredibly proud of the invaluable contributions made by the South Asian community to our great city.

I know that Londoners have concerns about the expansion of the Ulez and may not immediately see the benefits of this policy to our health, the environment, and the world at large. However, toxic air pollution affects us all in ways we may not even be aware of. Research conducted by scientists at Imperial College London shows that air pollution is linked to around 4000 premature deaths each year, stunted lungs in children, and life-changing illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, asthma and dementia.

The unfortunate reality is that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Londoners suffer the worst consequences of toxic air. I feel compelled as Mayor to do everything I can to protect our most vulnerable communities from the devastating impacts of air pollution.

We know the Ulez works as it’s already allowed more than four million people to breathe cleaner air in inner London and harmful NO2 pollution levels have been cut by nearly half in central London. By expanding the Ulez London-wide, five million more Londoners will be able to breathe cleaner air – think of all the lives this could potentially save.

Of course, it is also true that many South Asian countries are already at the forefront of experiencing climate change, with for example, countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh often suffering awful flooding, so it is all the more important that London plays its part.


AV:  How do you feel about handling criticism not just from other parties and citizens, but from within senior leaders of Labour? With a mammoth task ahead, does this impede your plan or dissuade you to rethink your strategy?


Mayor: I’ve always said that it was a very difficult decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), but it was necessary to address the devastating impacts of toxic air pollution.

I’m the Mayor of London and I was elected twice by Londoners to lead and make difficult decisions for our city. The issues of toxic air and the climate crisis must be above party politics and I will continue to lead from the front and support Londoners as we transition to a greener and healthier city for all of us.


AV:  When a strategy as big as Ulez is implemented and intends to bring about a change, what goes on in your head ahead of the upcoming elections? And how are you building it in a way such that your future ascendants as Mayor are able to do justice to your blueprint of Ulez?


Mayor: I believe passionately in tackling toxic air pollution and addressing the climate crisis. These are issues affecting Londoners now, but they are also about the future of our city and our planet.

When we have children being impacted by the harmful effects of air pollution, when we have temperatures of over 40 degrees and rampant wildfires in our city, and when low-lying countries are devastated by flooding, it convinces me we have to act.

I hope the massive expansion to the scrappage scheme I’ve just announced, meaning every Londoner with a non-compliant car will be eligible for a £2,000 grant, will support people as we move towards a greener future. We need to show future generations that the transition to a greener and healthier planet can be fair while being impactful, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

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