London Assembly calls for rethink on Ultra Low Emission Zone
London's proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) should be introduced earlier than the current 2020 timeframe and needs to be widened to cover more boroughs in order for the capital to comply with legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
That's the recommendation of the London Assembly Environment Committee, coming in response to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson's consultation on the proposed ULEZ, which is designed to tackle London's law-breaching air pollution limits.
This follows similar calls from other organisations including the London Boroughs and the London Health Commission - both urging for an earlier implementation of the ULEZ, along with wider coverage, stricter limits and stronger incentives than is currently proposed.
Johnson has said the delay on introducing the zone - despite compliance with pollution limits being required by 2015 - is needed to allow car owners currently tied into three or five-year finance deals time to purchase vehicles that would avoid the charges if they so wish.
But London Assembly Environment Committee says the overall health benefits of the ULEZ should be prioritised over the risk of financial penalties to a minority of drivers. It is also concerned that the ULEZ might need strengthening before 2020 due to pending judicial actions and Mayoral elections, and if a stronger ULEZ was proposed from the start it would give car owners time to adjust accordingly.
"Transport for London has said that nearly three quarters of the traffic in central London will meet the proposed ULEZ standards by 2020 even without the zone," said Environment Committee chair Stephen Knight. "The financial costs to a small number of drivers must therefore be weighed against the worrying number of Londoners affected by respiratory problems and thousands of early deaths linked to the capital's air quality."
The Committee argues that if the Zone is introduced in 2020, financial penalties for vehicles which break the rules should be increased in the first few years - from the £12.50 for light vehicles and £100 for heavy vehicles per day currently planned. Increasing these penalties would provide a stronger disincentive, although few drivers would have to pay the charge regularly, the Committee states.
Currently, the proposed zone will cover a similar area to the congestion charge zone but some London Boroughs such as hackney and Southwark have expressed interest on extending the zone into their boroughs. Scope for expansion should be included now and the Committee recommends that Johnson works closely with the London boroughs to ensure the compliance of the whole of London with pollution limits.
The Committee also welcomed new proposals to charge pre-September 2014 diesels, but called for standards to remain under review for possible increases following further uptake of lower-emission vehicles.
A minority of Environment Committee members from the conservative party felt that costs incurred by both the public and the London economy in going beyond the proposed ULEZ measures recommended by the committee would bring insufficient benefits to be justified.
However, members from the Green Party feel the Committee's recommendations should go even further and that Johnson should have to explain how the whole of London will achieve full compliance by 2020 at the latest.
Johnson first proposed the ULEZ in 2013 in the first of a series of measures to tackle high air pollution levels in London. More recently, the Mayor announced a £330m green fund for 2,400 hybrid buses, zero-emission taxis and 10,000 street trees for London.