A letter sent by Grant Shapps MP in 2020 (during his time as transport secretary) to London mayor Sadiq Khan has been shared widely on social media as evidence that the upcoming expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was imposed on Mr Khan as a condition of extraordinary government funding for Transport for London (TfL).
The ULEZ is an area in London where owners of vehicles which don’t match specific emissions standards must pay to drive. The zone currently covers all areas within the city’s North and South Circular Roads, but is set to be expanded to cover the entire Greater London area from 29 August 2023.
The letter, which was sent on 14 May 2020 and sets out the terms of the first of three short-term funding packages from the government which were agreed to cover a shortfall in revenue for TfL during the Covid-19 pandemic, states that TfL agreed to “The immediate reintroduction of the London Congestion Charge, LEZ [Low Emission Zone] and ULEZ and urgently bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges, in accordance with the relevant legal powers and decision-making processes.”
This paragraph has been shared widely on Facebook, alongside claims that the government and Mr Shapps “ordered” or “forced” Mr Khan to expand the ULEZ boundary as a condition for funding.
The Department for Transport has said that it did not impose the upcoming expansion of ULEZ to cover all of Greater London on the Mayor, and that the funding agreement set out in the May 2020 letter has nothing to do with Mr Khan’s decision to proceed with the upcoming expansion.
It said that the reference to bringing forward “proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges” referred to proposals relating to the operation times of the Congestion Charge, and the potential expansion of ULEZ to an area up to the North and South Circular Roads.
This expansion was first proposed by Mr Khan in 2018, before the funding agreement, and was ultimately implemented in October 2021 after having been included in his re-election manifesto earlier in the year.
Neither the funding agreement nor Mr Khan’s election manifesto specifically referred to expanding ULEZ to cover all of Greater London, though he did state in his manifesto that: “Beyond the expansion of ULEZ, I’ll monitor all existing road-charging schemes to ensure they continue to bring the maximum benefits of improved air quality and reduced congestion, and I’ll identify where further action is needed to eradicate hotspots for air pollution.”
In a letter published in June 2021 setting out the terms of the third TfL funding agreement, the government stated that “Should the Mayor choose to amend his existing plans to extend the ULEZ boundary from 25 October 2021 these will have to be paid for without recourse to Government funding”, suggesting that extending ULEZ beyond the North and South Circular Roads was not a condition for government funding.
A spokesperson for the Mayor similarly confirmed to Full Fact that the government did not specify any particular further expansion to the ULEZ in its 2020 funding letter.
They said: “The Mayor of London confirmed he would expand ULEZ up to the North and South Circular in June 2018. He then confirmed in November 2022 that he would be expanding the zone to cover most of London. This decision was based on the damage air pollution does to the health of Londoners to bring down toxic emissions from vehicles. The decision to expand the ULEZ was not about making money – indeed the net revenue from the ULEZ will be negligible by 2026/2027 because compliance rates are projected to be so high.
“The funding letter of May 2020 required TfL to bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of the congestion charge, the LEZ and the ULEZ. By this date the expansion of the ULEZ to inner London had already been confirmed. The government was not specific about further expansion to these zones, although they had previously suggested the congestion charge zone should be expanded to the north and south circular. This suggestion was later dropped. The government was not specific about what was intended other than that TfL should explore proposals to widen the scope and levels of the congestion charge, the LEZ and ULEZ.”
The Mayor’s office also pointed us towards a letter (page 98) sent by Mr Shapps in October 2020 in which he stated that the government proposed extending the Congestion Charge zone “to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone and at the same time, October 2021”.
Misleading claims about the political process behind the ULEZ expansion, which we’ve written about previously, can damage trust in politics and harm public debate.
Image courtesy of Matt Brown