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The expansion of London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s flagship clean air scheme to cover the whole of the UK capital can go ahead after the High Court on Friday dismissed a legal challenge to the plan.
Five Tory-led councils had sought to block the extension of the so-called ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) to all of the city’s 33 boroughs, arguing the public consultation process was flawed and that Khan had exceeded his powers.
Dismissing all grounds of the challenge, Mr Justice Jonathan Swift said the mayor’s decision was “consistent with his powers” and added there had been “sufficient information” provided in a public consultation exercise.
Khan had come under mounting political pressure in recent days from within his own party to rethink the enlargement, which is due to come into effect from August 29.
The policy’s unpopularity was widely blamed for Labour’s failure to seize the outer London seat of Uxbridge from the ruling Conservatives in a by-election last week.
Both Tory and Labour officials cited widespread fury among voters at the Ulez enlargement as the main reason the ruling party narrowly retained former prime minister Boris Johnson’s old seat.
Khan said the “landmark decision” was “good news” as he signalled his intention to press on with the expansion. “The decision to expand the Ulez was very difficult and not something I took lightly and I continue to do everything possible to address any concerns Londoners may have,” he said.
His comments will cause further jitters within Labour’s national leadership. Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, earlier this week said that given the cost of living crisis, it did not “feel like the right time to clobber people with extra charges”.
The scheme, which originally covered the centre of the city, has already been widened out once before to areas within the north and south circular roads that ring inner London. It imposes a £12.50 daily charge on drivers of older and more polluting vehicles.
Khan has said expanding this year would bring clean air to a further 5mn Londoners. He said the expansion was targeted at about 200,000 vehicles out of around 2.3mn that are on the roads of the capital on an average day. The daily charge generally applies to petrol engine vehicles built before 2006 and diesel ones built before 2016.
The government this week pushed back against demands by Khan for more funding to finance a more generous scrappage scheme to help minimise the impact on drivers of older vehicles. It said air quality was a devolved matter and said it was up to Khan to justify his decision to expand the Ulez.
Ian Edwards, leader of the London borough of Hillingdon, one of the local authorities that brought the legal challenge, said after the ruling: “I am hugely disappointed for our residents and businesses and I call on the mayor of London to further reflect on his plans.”
Environmental campaigners welcomed the verdict. “This is a huge victory in the fight for clean air and a crucial step forward in protecting the health of all Londoners from toxic air pollution,” said Clean Air Wins, a campaign aimed at reducing air pollution.