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The Mayor of London introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in 2019. Today it covers most of the capital's inner boroughs. Now Transport for London is consulting on proposals to expand the ULEZ to cover all of Greater London from August 2023 - and Living Streets supports this.

Here our Amy explains why she supports the expansion and what you can do to take action to make London’s air cleaner for people across the capital.

London on a bad air day from Crystal Palace

London on a bad air day from Crystal Palace © Angus Hewlett

someone holding a branch with lichen on

I’ve lived in Croydon, an outer London Borough, for most of my life. I think Croydon is an amazing place to live. We have beautiful green spaces and a vibrant and diverse cultural history.

However, we also suffer from some of the worst effects of air pollution. According to Asthma + Lung UK, a charity working for good respiratory health for all, Croydon is ‘the worst place in London to have asthma’. Sadly, it is the social inequalities within our borough that lie behind this headline with the least affluent children most affected.

This inequality was emphasised by Maxwell Ayamba and Jenson Grant, two of the artists who created a recipe for walking in the WalkBook, the creative walking project from Living Streets and The University of Glasgow. Maxwell and Jenson are the founders of the Sheffield Environmental Movement and have created a community education programme aimed at empowering people to identify-and speak out- about poor air quality in their community.

When I joined them at their WalkShop in London in May, they told me how poor air quality has a life long effect on our health, impacting everything from breathing to brain health.

The lichens we found on the plane trees bordering Shoreditch Park were a sobering reminder of how prevalent air pollution is in the capital- and how much of it comes from transport emissions.

The visible nature of air pollution is something I struggle to escape from on my journeys into the capital from Croydon. As I reach the top of the hill, I see St Paul’s and the City below. It is always immediately obvious if it is a clean air day or not by how clear the view is.

Karina Fernandez is a member of the Croydon Living Streets Group and worked on an anti-idling campaign with the Eco-Council at her children’s WOW school. Karina strongly supports the ULEZ expansion and explained to me that this was because:

“We have experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded this week. There have been wildfires in London. If ever there was any doubt about our urgent need to change the way we live in order to protect ourselves, our children’s futures, and our planet, that doubt must now be a thing of the past."

It is no longer acceptable to do anything other than seriously limit our use of fossil fuels, and one easy and impactful way to do this is to extend the ULEZ as soon as possible. In fact, I’d say it is the minimum that should be done.

In my opinion it would also be worth introducing fines for idling beyond three minutes, as is the case in New York, which has made a difference to air quality there and would do here as well.

We can see from the impact report on the ULEZ already in operation that the benefits to health, equality and levelling up of the disparity between privilege and poverty are clear. I do understand that there are many people for whom the proposed ULEZ extension will be annoying and upsetting and do sympathise with how stressful change can be.

It’s maybe worth remembering that there have been many times in the past when there has been huge outcry against changes to the law in the name of better health for all.  

When compulsory wearing of seatbelts was introduced, and the ban on smoking in indoor public spaces, and not to mention the ban on children working in mines under the age of ten in 1843, there was outcry and horror.

Were these shocking developments in legislation a mistake because they were unpopular at the time? I think we will look back on this new ULEZ in the same way. It takes courage to make the right choice here, not the short-term popular choice but we need to be bold.’

Or as Brendan Donegan, Chair of Bromley Living Streets Group puts it in this Twitter thread, ‘anyone who tells you “ULEZ isn’t the way to go” should also be prepared to answer the question, “so what should we do instead?” because these problems that we face- air pollution, climate change- are getting worse and need action now. For everyone’s sake.”

About the author

Amy Foster

Croydon Living Streets Group