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Trades people set to be “worst hit” by ULEZ expansion

It may help to tackle air pollution, but the ULEZ expansion could also put companies out of business, says Pro Landscaper’s Bethany Vann

The expansion of the ULEZ is causing concern across London’s trade sector, and for good reason. The added charge inflicts unsustainable financial pressure on a number of trade businesses.

As of today, drivers of non-compliant vehicles will have to pay £12.50 a day to travel in the now affected areas, which cover a majority of Greater London.

The charge, which is equivalent to more than £3k a year, is already incurring multi-level knock-on effects as tradespeople increase their prices to compensate. According to Fix Radio, 25% of construction workers say they have lost work as a direct result of the increase in their prices to cover the additional charge.

North London builder Danny Madden told Metro he has lost clients after they could no longer afford to pay, and has considered whether carrying on the three-generation business is “worth it.” He said that he was ‘forced to scrap’ his old business van and buy a ULEZ compliant truck, costing him £24,000, and that his business is not the only one under threat of closure as a result of the expansion.

The expansion is supposedly to tackle London’s air pollution, with the intention of improving people’s health and alleviating pressure on the NHS, as well as decreasing the capital’s congestion and aiding the current climate emergency, says the mayor’s office.

A ULEZ scrappage scheme has been established, allowing tradespeople the opportunity to receive up to £9,000 in aid to scrape or retrofit non-compliant vehicles. The scheme offers critical support to tradespeople, but many reports highlight the maximum amount obtainable is too little when compared to the current cost of compliant vehicles.

But with the short time frame of replacing non-compliant vehicles, in addition to a cost-of-living crisis to contend with, the reality of the ULEZ expansion neglects to take into account the harsh reality many of London’s tradespeople are facing. And it might not be quite as effective at reducing air pollution.

Reports have shown the original ULEZ scheme was effective in reducing non-compliant vehicles, with 93% now meeting the cleaner standards, and over a quarter (26%) drop in NOx emissions in the original zone.

The scheme has helped to “dramatically reduce air pollution” says professor Frank Kelly from the Imperial College in London.

However, news surfaced last week that Khan’s office supposedly paid the Imperial College’s Environmental Research Group £800k, allegedly prompting Kelly’s glowing review of the zone’s effectiveness.

The same department released a report in 2019 that sited a less than 3% drop in nitrogen dioxide within the original ULEZ.

With conflicting reports surfacing and more voices joining the debate, it is becoming harder to know what to believe.

Ultimately the tradespeople who will be affected have three options: pay the new charge, and subsequently increase their prices to compensate, and potentially alienate customers; replace their vehicles, with or without the help of the scrappage scheme, and potentially incur more costs and delays; or cease business altogether.

Now I know, this all seems rather negative, and it’s not that I’m against a cleaner atmosphere, because ultimately until we conquer space travel and planet colonisation, we only have this one world, and we need to help it.

But on the other side of that controversial coin, the everyday reality is tradespeople will suffer from this expansion, especially in the way it has been introduced. It is likely to impose knock-on effects, that in a cost-of-living and housing crisis, is only going to apply more pressure to an already fragile situation.

I think the expansion is necessary, in some form. The end goal of cleaning London’s air and reducing congestion is crucial, but now is not the appropriate time to introduce more charges.


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