Kingston: Much-loved family business shuts after 60 years over ULEZ expansion | Local News | News

A dad in South West London has been forced to shut the much-loved greengrocers his parents opened more than 60 years ago after revealing it would cost £100,000 to buy new vans if the planned Ultra-Low Emission Zone expansion goes ahead.

Martyn Stear said CF & MC Stear on Surbiton Hill Park could not afford the £12.50 daily charge that would have been slapped on three of the business’ five vehicles. which delivered groceries to restaurants across Kingston. The 65-year-old has long been at the heart of the community, along with wife Alison and sister Wendy, and wanted to keep the shop going until he was 70.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service it would have cost £100,000 to buy three new vehicles to replace the business’ non-compliant ones to meet the ULEZ requirements, which target the most polluting vehicles.

He said he “couldn’t afford to have paid £12.50 a day” for each of the three non-compliant vehicles “because that adds up so much in such a short time”. But he said replacing the vehicles was also too expensive. 

He said: “Next year if [the ULEZ expansion] comes in, I mean it’s such chaos at the minute nobody knows what’s happening. But if it did, I’ve got to get three new vehicles and that’s £100,000 to me to buy three new vehicles that size.

“So of course I’ve got three that are worth nothing of such if it comes in and I said to my sister – she’s 71, I’m 65 – I said: ‘Look we don’t want this sort of debt, not now. We’ve been here 60 years and also with the cost of living now. We were doing so much wholesale and that’s dropped and a lot of it is [because] people can’t afford to go out all the time now.”

He said customers queued outside the shop from 6am to 8pm seven days a week in lockdown, but this fell as people returned to the office and the cost of living spiralled. He said customers can’t afford to eat out anymore at the restaurants he supplied or buy more expensive fruit at the shop. Greengrocers, he added, can’t compete with supermarket deals.

He said: “Even since June or July when it all started escalating a little bit, people were buying the essentials but they weren’t buying the luxury items. People [before] would come in all the time and they would buy their essentials and they might want to have some strawberries, some raspberries or some blueberries, or a nice melon, but [now] they say: ‘No we won’t have them this week, we’ll go without.'”

He added: “Since I was about 5 I’ve worked in this shop, so [I’ve been] working about 60 years. But I’d have liked to have done another, possibly another 4 or 5 years until I was 70 then call it a day.” He previously lived in the flat above the shop after parents Charlie and Amy started the business. 

He said the road was practically closed when the shop shut at the end of August as so many customers came to say goodbye. The family still has monthly stalls at three farmers’ markets in Kingston, New Malden and Thames Ditton, and will sell Christmas trees as usual this year.

Kingston councillors called for a more generous scrappage scheme to help small businesses change their cars to comply with the ULEZ at a council meeting on Tuesday. They said the borough needed better public transport to make it work.

When Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced the consultation on the proposed expansion, which ended in August, he said the financial impact it could have was a key consideration but that it could “save lives”.

He said: “The triple challenges of tackling toxic air pollution, the climate emergency and congestion mean we need to further reduce emissions from vehicles in London. We simply don’t have time to waste. The climate emergency means we only have a small window of opportunity left to reduce carbon emissions to help save the planet.

“And despite the world-leading progress we have made over the last few years, there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the lungs of young Londoners and leading to thousands of deaths every year, with the greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution in outer London boroughs.”

Mr Khan told MyLondon earlier this month: “We’ve seen that ULEZ works. We’ve had world leading experts say they’ve never seen the results they’ve seen in reducing toxic air. I’ve not made up my mind in relation to the expansion of ULEZ to cover all of London.” The zone would cover the whole capital by August 2023 if the plans are approved.

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