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MP launches Bill to grant new powers to stop expansion of London ULEZ and other ‘anti-car policies’

Theresa Villiers, a former Cabinet minister and current Member of Parliament for Chipping Barnet, has made a bold move to challenge London mayor Sadiq Khan's 'anti-car policies'.

She introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill to the House of Commons, seeking to grant the Government new powers to scrap the expansion of the capital's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The Bill aims to amend the 1999 Greater London Authority Act, so that the Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, can have the authority to review and overturn decisions made by the London mayor on matters related to transport and air quality. This would include the expansion of ULEZ, and other controversial policies being pursued by Khan, such as the growth of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and lowering speeds to 20mph on main roads.

Ms Villiers has been a vocal critic of the London mayor's policies, which she says have caused undue hardship and inconvenience to residents who rely on their cars. Her proposed legislation would give more power to the national government, and ultimately, provide a more balanced approach to tackling air pollution and improving transport in the capital.

It remains to be seen whether Ms Villiers' Bill will gain enough support in the House of Commons, but her efforts have certainly opened up a new front in the ongoing debate over transport policy in London.

Theresa Villiers MP said in full at the House of Commons: “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to give the Secretary of State power to review and overturn decisions made by the Mayor of London relating to transport and to air quality; and for connected purposes.

“In my 18 years as MP for Chipping Barnet - I cannot believe it is so long—almost nothing has provoked such strong opposition as the Mayor of London’s plan to expand the ultra low emission zone. It comes up on almost every doorstep and at almost every meeting. People stop me in the street to tell me how strongly they feel about it, and over 50,000 have signed the Conservative petition. That is why I am bringing forward a Bill to give the Government power to overrule Mayor Khan and stop ULEZ expansion.

”Of course, we need to continue to improve air quality in London, but this is the wrong scheme at the wrong time. The Mayor’s own integrated impact assessment concluded that ULEZ expansion is likely to have only a minor or negligible beneficial impact on air pollution, so it is completely unacceptable for a £12.50 a day charge to be levied on my constituents who are already grappling with the worst cost of living pressures for many years.

“ULEZ has been tolerated in inner London because it has one of the most extensive public transport systems in the world. That is just not the case in the suburbs. In Barnet, and in other outer London boroughs, many of us depend on our cars for millions of journeys every year. For many of us, the nearest train or tube station is well beyond walking distance. The claim that the Mayor’s new orbital bus route, which, I would add, barely makes it into my constituency, can provide a viable alternative to suburban car travel is simply risible. The Mayor has already withdrawn vital bus services such as the 384 from certain streets and he is doing nothing to restore the cancelled 84 route. The reality is that ULEZ expansion to the Greater London boundary leaves my constituents facing the cost of buying a new vehicle, which many cannot afford, or paying an annual bill that could reach as much as £4,500 a year just to get about their own neighbourhood.

“The scheme could devastate our local town centres in outer London as their regular customers stop coming because of the paywall that Mayor Khan is constructing around our capital. Small businesses will be hit hard. Many are already struggling to find compliant vans that are affordable. The Mayor’s grace periods, exemptions and scrappage scheme are narrowly drawn and frankly barely touch the sides of tackling the problem. Even those who do qualify find that the payments do not meet anything like the whole cost of a new vehicle.

“Let us take the example of an emergency worker doing a night shift: they face the double whammy of a charge to travel to work and another after midnight to return home, meaning £25 just to do a shift. ULEZ expansion will mean that public services in outer London, especially the care sector, find it even harder to hire the staff they need, since so many of the current workforce live outside London and drive in.

“Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data indicates that there are over 690,000 non-compliant cars registered in London. That rises to over 850,000 when we count all vehicle types. The number will be higher still when we take into account people whose work or daily life means they need to come into London from neighbouring counties. And of course, they have no vote in a mayoral election—taxation without representation in a particularly blatant form.

“Along with my constituents, residents across the London suburbs and bordering counties will be paying the price for Sadiq Khan’s wholesale mismanagement of Transport for London’s finances. He has been given a £6 billion bail-out by the Government and yet still, even with that, he wants to squeeze people for more charges and more fines, cynically disguised as air quality measures. We in this House have to be aware that if the Mayor is allowed to push this scheme through, it is only a matter of time before he hikes up the daily charge and imposes it on an ever wider range of vehicles as a stepping stone to the pay-per-mile road charging he would like to inflict on every single driver in London. That is why we need to stop ULEZ expansion now.

“But ULEZ is not the only scheme that the Bill could give Ministers the power to review and potentially overturn: there are also streets shut off by low traffic neighbourhoods; road space lost to poorly designed and wrongly sited cycle lanes; inexplicable and seemingly pointless pavement extensions; and 20 mph limits on wide main roads. A range of policies are now being pursued that are manifestly and disproportionately anti-car. Some are led by the boroughs, but they all have the enthusiastic backing of the Mayor and many are funded by TfL.

“Schemes of this kind can be appropriate in the right setting and following meaningful consultation, but the Mayor of London just seems intent on making our capital city harder to get around. It feels like parts of London are being turned into a hostile environment for cars, vans and taxis. That damages productivity, prosperity and quality of life.

“I support measures to make cycling easier and safer, but why remove swathes of road space in Park Lane for a segregated cycle lane when there is already a far more pleasant cycle lane through Hyde Park right next to the road? And why did it take two years of massive congestion on Euston Road for the Mayor to accept that his cycle lane there was a disaster and remove it? Why ban licensed taxis from Bishopsgate, one of our most important transport arteries since the Roman era? There seems to be no logic in the imposition of the 20 mph limits on major arterial routes such as Finchley Road and Park Lane, unless it is to soak drivers for the 1 million speeding fines that the Mayor is urging the police to issue. Add to that the Mayor of London’s attempt to build over station car parks and his increasing pressure in the planning system for so-called car-free developments to be built, and we have what looks like an ideological anti-car approach. Of course, there is merit in schemes that support a switch to cycling, walking and public transport, but the focus should be on improving services, not piling on new charges or arbitrarily removing chunks of our road network capacity.

“There are also serious equality concerns. For many who are elderly or those who have reduced mobility, such as parents with young children, cycling may not be a practical option. The concerted push to restrict car and taxi access to road space harms those groups and can also have a negative impact on women’s safety, because they force more women to walk home after dark.

“In conclusion, I find it hard to believe that I have to restate this, but the car is a force for good in the world. Huge progress has been made in recent years in improving road safety and reducing emissions. Without cars, vans, lorries and taxis, our transport system would grind to a halt and our economy and our society would be paralysed. Cars help us live our lives in the way we want to. They keep us connected to friends and family. They make possible so much of what we enjoy; so much of what makes life worth living would be difficult or impossible without the freedom that driving allows us.

“It is time for a reset. It is time to lift the stigma increasingly attached to driving. It is time to scrap anti-car ideology. It is most definitely time to stop ULEZ expansion and elect a Conservative Mayor of London.”


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