Neil's City Hall Diary - 25 July 2022
In last week’s newsletter I shared with you my research into the Mayor’s ULEZ expansion. On Thursday I had an opportunity to share it with the Mayor in person, and it would be fair to say he didn’t take it well. As the saying goes, if you’re taking a lot of flack you must be over the target.
This week I also had a chance to visit the new Super Sewer being built below the Thames, a £4.2 billion mega project to clean up the Thames for generations to come. A vast, fascinating yet almost invisible civil engineering project below the Thames. If you’ve had enough of hearing about the Mayor, scroll down to a good news story below!
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Challenging the Mayor over his ULEZ plan
To recap last week’s newsletter: the Mayor’s own reports show that expanding the ULEZ to the whole of London will reduce NO2 levels by just 1.5%, and make no difference to particulate pollution or carbon emissions. But it will cause great hardship, isolation, and damage business across outer London, hitting hardest those least able to afford it.
So how can he justify it? That’s what I asked the Mayor on Thursday. To see how it went, you can watch the full exchange on YouTube, above.
The super-short recap: the Mayor claimed not to recognise any figures that contradict his version of the facts, and when I insisted he look at the hardship he’s going to create, the lack of public transport alternatives, and his total lack of sympathy for people who will suffer his charge, he repeatedly changes the subject or reverts to insults. In the end, he demanded we move on.
He knows I’m right so I will keep reminding him of these facts from now until whenever he eventually agrees, I hope, to scrap the plan.
You have only until Friday to register your objection. Make sure you do and make sure you tell everyone you know to register their objections, too, because it helps me make the case that people do not want it.
- Please sign our ULEZ petition
- Tell the Mayor in his consultation
- Email the mayor:email@example.com which will also count as a formal consultation response
The longer recap: he began by saying he “didn’t recognise” my figures on air pollution, so I read them out from the document. He tried to claim “that’s wrong” then backed off and said he’d have a look at the document. When he does, he’ll find that my figures are correct.
He probably knew that, which is why he switched to quoting from the other report I mentioned last week: the 6 month review of last year’s ULEZ expansion to the north and south circular.
As you know, this report found air pollution is down because traffic is down, but there’s no way to know why that is. Is it because of ULEZ or is it because of the pandemic, last year’s fuel shortage, and this year’s fuel price surge? The report says there’s no way to know.
So the Mayor quoted a lot of figures about reduction in vehicles as a diversionary tactic, but couldn’t run away from his own report saying that so much has happened in the last 2 years there’s no way to know whether ULEZ had any effect.
I then pointed out the big difference between inner London and outer London: public transport levels, or “PTAL” in the jargon.
The Mayor’s idea is that ULEZ makes people switch from driving to public transport, but his own report undermines that idea. It points out that in inner London the public transport makes switching practical, but here in outer London there’s often no alternative. So it’s just another cost of living burden.
You might remember this map of London car ownership I shared 3 weeks ago. One of the least surprising maps of London you’ll ever see.
Amazingly, The Mayor agreed with that, then he tried to suggest all sorts of transport improvements might be coming. Before he could start monologuing, I pointed out he wants ULEZ expanded by next August. What improvements will happen by then?
He knows there won’t be any so he changed the subject to one of his stock speeches: only rich Londoners own cars. I’ve heard that before so I insisted he stick to the point, that lots of people on low incomes do own cars and they’re the ones he will hit hardest with his charge.
At this point he lost his rag and tried grandstanding to avoid answering the question.
But we’d just heard a question from a Labour AM about the cost of living, where the Mayor showed great sympathy. I pointed out the stark contrast, “Where is your sympathy for the people you’re hitting with this ULEZ charge?” I asked him.
He went back to his stock speech that “half of Londoners don’t own a car and it’s the poorest Londoners that don’t own a car.” A short sentence with two facts, both of them wrong.
As a brief aside, you might remember he made the same claim to my colleague Peter Fortune in March, you can watch that video below.
The Mayor was wrong in March and he’s wrong now - loads of people on low incomes own cars, especially in outer London. For example, 49% of London households with a gross household income of between £17,500 and £23,500 own a car. They are not wealthy and as the Integrated Impact Assessment points out, they are more likely to own the older vehicles that the Mayor will hit with his £12.50 charge.
The Mayor knows this but doesn’t want to think about it. So at this point he went back to grandstanding then insulted me and demanded an end the questioning, so the Labour Chair of the meeting intervened to bring it to a close.
You can reach your own conclusion.
It’s interesting to watch The Mayor’s reaction every time I pressed him on facts he doesn’t like. I think he is familiar with those facts and I think he does know that they’re right, he just doesn’t want to admit what he’s trying to do.
What he’s trying to do is spend £200 million to impose a huge cost on people who simply cannot afford it, to achieve tiny improvements in air quality.
As I wrote above, if you’re taking a lot of flack you must be over the target, so I will keep forcing the Mayor to confront the reality of what he’s planning. If nothing else, it will get harder for him to pretend not to be familiar with the facts.
Thames Tideway, London’s £4.2bn Super Sewer
What are we doing to keep the Thames clean?
After 6 years of tunnelling under the Thames, London’s new super sewer is now nearly complete and last week I had a chance to visit. It will be fully operational in 2 years, at which point visits are definitely off.
At 7.2 metres wide they’re 6 times the capacity of Bazalgette’s original 3 metre Victorian sewers. They tell me these new tunnels are wide enough to park 3 London buses side by side, though they were vague on how you might get them down there.
Tideway follows the Thames for over 15 miles from Acton in the west to Abbey Mills pumping station in the east, diverting waste from the existing sewer network and keeping it out of the Thames.
The hidden infrastructure that keeps London working isn’t always glamorous, but civil engineering projects on this scale take enormous skill to design and build. For the people working on it, their monument is not a landmark bridge or a famous building but a clean river for generations to come.
It was a real pleasure to meet those people and see the pride they take in the job, so I’d like to thank them for the work they’re doing and for giving us a chance to see it up close.
If you’d like to know more, I posted this series of photos and video about my visit on Twitter.