Not a single backbench Labour MP turned up to defend Sadiq Khan’s hated Ulez expansion when it was debated in Parliament yesterday. The scheme to take the Ulez zone out to the Greater London boundary came under sustained attack from London Conservative MPs, after thousands of people signed parliamentary petitions asking for it to be scrapped.
Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, has been vocal in condemning the Mayor's plans, calling Ulez expansion “The wrong scheme at the wrong time”.
In her speech during the lively debate, she said “Of course everyone here today will agree that we need to reduce air pollution, and a range of Government policies are delivering progress towards that important goal. But the Mayor of London published an independent impact assessment of his Ulez expansion proposal that concluded that it would have only a negligible impact on air quality.
Yet I am sure that many of us have had constituents attending our surgeries to explain the financial hardship that they will experience as a result of this charge being introduced at a time of major increases in the cost of living.
The Mayor made no mention of Ulez expansion in his manifesto; a majority who responded to the consultation opposed his plan; and he is giving people only a few months to get ready for its imposition. Other charging schemes were announced years in advance, giving reasonable time for everyone to adjust.
Constituents stop me in the street to tell me how much they oppose Mayor Khan’s proposal. A protest I organised, which I was expecting to attract about 10 people and be rather low key, attracted a crowd of about 60.
Outer London high streets in places such as Barnet are already suffering from the big switch to online retail, accelerated by the pandemic; losing their customers from outside London could be a killer blow. Our public services in outer London depend heavily on workers who do not live in the capital. Schools, the NHS and the police already struggle to recruit the people they need. Setting up a Ulez pay wall around London will make that task even harder and place even greater pressure on NHS waiting times.
Ms Villiers also took the opportunity once again to highlight the importance of restoring the 84 bus route between Potters Bar and Barnet saying” The issue is made worse by Transport for London’s unhelpful and negative approach to cross-border bus services, such as the 84 service in my constituency. The operator discontinued the route between Potters Bar and Barnet last year after concluding that it was not commercially viable. However, despite many appeals from me and others, TfL and the Mayor have not lifted a finger to get it reinstated. The Mayor promises that the Ulez expansion will fund transport improvements, but there is no sign of them so far. The one orbital bus route that has been announced will be a wholly inadequate substitute for the millions of journeys that will be hit by the new charging scheme.”
She concluded “The expansion of the ultra low emission zone to outer London has no mandate. It will do virtually nothing for air quality, it will be economically damaging and it will hit the poorest harder than anyone else. The Mayor should dismantle Labour’s hated Ulez expansion. If he does not, I sincerely hope that Londoners will take the opportunity to vote him out next May and replace him with a Conservative Mayor of London.”
Other MPs taking part in the debate included Elliot Colburn, Sir David Evennett, Louie French, Gareth Johnson, Mark Francois, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Gareth Bacon, James Daly, Nick Fletcher, Kelly Tolhurst and Transport Minister, Richard Holden.