Sadiq Khan has hit back at criticism of the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) and accused the Conservatives of creating a “bogus war on the motorist”.
The scheme, which was expanded to cover all of Greater London on Tuesday, charges older, more polluting vehicles £12.50 a day and is the largest clean air zone in the world. However, the strategy aimed at improving air quality has been divisive.
Khan has defended the policy in an article for the Observer and cited government figures that show air pollution is causing between 28,000 and 36,000 early deaths nationwide every year. About 4,000 of these premature deaths are in London.
He wrote: “The Conservatives have overseen 13 years of decline – with soaring rents and mortgages, devastated public services, sky-high bills and the highest tax burden on working people in a generation. They have nothing to offer.
“That’s why they are desperate to confect a bogus war on the motorist. Division is both their strategy and overriding priority.
“Regrettably, fostering this type of damaging politics is more important to Rishi Sunak right now than the harm being done to our children’s lungs by air pollution or the decline forced on our economy because of their recklessness and incompetence.
“My objection is not to good-faith debate, but to the Tories sowing discord and division, in a desperate attempt to distract from the mess they’ve made of our country.”
Ulez was developed by Boris Johnson when he was mayor but was implemented by Khan, his successor. It initially covered central London and was expanded in 2021.
In July, the high court ruled a further expansion can go ahead after five Conservative-led councils had challenged the proposals. Sunak, the prime minister, has previously said it is not the appropriate time to expand the scheme as families struggle with the cost of living.
Khan wrote: “The government has long recognised that clean air zones are one of the most effective tools we have for tackling air pollution in London.
skip past newsletter promotion
Our morning email breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters
“It is clear that the Conservatives’ obsession with London’s Ulez has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the scheme and everything to do with their desperate attempts to cling to power by trying to weaponise green issues.
“Ulez was originally conceived by a Tory mayor, and is similar to other clean air zones being rolled out across the country with backing from the government. It is based on rock-solid science that is widely accepted both around the world and here at home.”
Khan, the former Labour MP for Tooting in south London, said the expansion means 5 million more Londoners will now breathe cleaner air.
He added: “Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day already meet the strict emissions standards and their drivers will not have to pay the charge, but will see the benefits of cleaner air. The Ulez will also help to tackle climate change and congestion.”