The ULEZ dilemma

A collection of climate stories mostly

Andrew Howells
6 min readAug 4


I try to avoid writing about the news, unless I happen to get there first, something I’ve managed once or twice.

But the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is on the horns of a dilemma, where some of us get to participate. It’s the first time that a law about climate change very clearly impacts voters pockets. As a result it has turned into a political football.

The people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip were given the opportunity to cast a protest vote against the expansion of ULEZ, by putting a cross in Steve Tuckwell’s conservative box. He campaigned exclusively on this issue, perhaps a sleight of hand trick to distract from a woeful government record?

Despite substantial swings against the Conservatives in all three by-elections, the strategy in Uxbridge, fighting the one issue, returned a narrow 495 vote margin of victory over Labour’s Danny Beales.

Was he wrong to do that? Of course not. Recognising that it was a hot topic of debate, gave Tuckwell one last throw of the dice to keep the seat blue, repeating the result of the previous fourteen parliamentary elections back to 1970.

Tuckwell’s opportunity to deliver on his promise has, however, been severely dented since. On 28th July 2023 the high court challenge brought by a number of Greater London boroughs was dismissed. The outer expansion of ULEZ was indeed lawful. It is also a conservative idea, although the member responsible has since left politics.

In 2015, Boris Johnson, the London Mayor at the time, kicked off this hot potato when he announced plans for a new ultra-low emission zone, covering the same area as the Central London congestion charge. It was expected to begin in September 2020, but Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor introduced a Toxicity Charge in 2017 for the most polluting vehicles. It was replaced with ULEZ in April 2019.

The £12.50 daily charge is typically paid by petrol cars and vans, mostly pre-2006, so at least 17 years old and their diesel counterparts, which are pre-2015. It’s based on the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) each vehicle emits. The gas is particularly harmful to lungs and exacerbates chronic illnesses such as asthma, lung and heart disease. An estimated 4,000…