There is strong public support for extending London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of the capital, a new poll has found.
A survey by YouGov found that a majority of Londoners, 51 per cent, believe the planned expansion should go ahead, against 27 per cent who do not.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has proposed extending the zone, which currently stretches to the north and south circular roads, to the Greater London border from August 2023.
Under the scheme, motor vehicles that do not meet emissions standards have to pay £12.50 a day to drive within its bounds.
The aim of the policy is to incentivise people to switch to less polluting vehicles or to switch to public transport, walking, or cycling.
Mr Khan told The Independent: “Air pollution in our city is contributing to children growing up with stunted lungs and older Londoners developing dementia.
“The ULEZ has already made a big difference – reducing air pollution by nearly half in central London and helping us to tackle the climate emergency.
“It’s clear that Londoners now want the zone to be expanded given the immense harm air pollution is still causing in our city, from cancer to dementia. Expansion of the ULEZ would lead to five million more people being able to breathe cleaner, less polluted air.
“In making my decision I will carefully consider all responses to the public consultation and Londoners’ views.”
Clean air campaigners also welcomed the findings and urged the mayor to proceed with the policy – which has been criticised by some motoring groups.
A partial leak of the results of Transport of London’s consultation on the ULEZ expansion last week suggested that two-thirds of people who responded to the exercise were against the expansion.
But such open consultation surveys are not regarded as a reliable measure of wider public opinion, tending to attract mass responses from motivated campaign groups, and are not weighted like a genuine opinion poll.
The results of the YouGov poll, which was designed to be representative of the capital’s population, appear to suggest the respondents to the consultation were unrepresentative of public opinion.
Mr Khan said on Friday that the consultation was “not a numbers game” and its survey is “not a referendum” – hinting that he could push on with the plan.
YouGov also found that ULEZ expansion is most popular among Londoners without access to a garden or private outdoor space, with 62 per cent in favour of it – far higher than those with gardens.
Sarah Woolnough, CEO at Asthma + Lung UK, told The Independent that the plans to expand the ULEZ would “help protect the lives and lungs of many more people who live, work or play in the city”, including 350,000 people living with a chronic lung condition who are outside the existing ULEZ boundary.
“Breathing dirty air puts these people at greater risk of life-threatening flare-ups, such as asthma attacks,” she said.
“We also know air pollution can lead to the development of new lung conditions like lung cancer, with emerging research just this week suggesting toxic particles can even reach unborn babies in the womb.
“For too long London has long been known as the Big Smoke – we want to see the ULEZ expansion put into action and we look forward to working with the mayor to ensure people with lung conditions are properly consulted and supported when this change comes into effect.”
She also called for improvements to walking, cycling, and public transport infrastructure in outer London, and support for people to transition to cleaner vehicles.
“Alongside the ULEZ, we need to see improvements to walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure in outer London boroughs so people are more confident to stop using their cars. There also needs to be financial support to help people transition to cleaner vehicles.”
Jemima Hartshorn, founder of the campaign group Mums for Lungs, said: “We have been campaigning for a London-wide ULEZ since 2018, and really hope it will be implemented soon.
“All kids in London are breathing air that stunts their lungs, causes and exacerbates asthma, cardiac issues and more. The ULEZ will help them all breathe easier.
“But it’s not enough to clean up the air and end the cycle of illness and thousands of premature deaths every year. Especially central London needs much more action to reduce cars and other sources of toxic pollution.”
Earlier this year, the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham shelved plans to charge for driving in a clean air zone in the city after a backlash from motorists.
But car ownership rates are much lower in London than in the rest of the country, with roughly half of households across Greater London having access to a vehicle – and driving very much a minority pursuit in inner boroughs like Lambeth, Camden and Hackney.