When I was a teenager, passing my driving test was my ultimate ambition. When arriving at school, I had to pass the teachers’ car park from the playground to the main school compound and I would look enviously on whilst my tutors arrived in an array of impressive automobiles (my favourite being a black Alfa Romeo owned by one of the science teachers). My parents had both learned to drive when in their forties, so I was determined not to follow in their footsteps. I took my first driving lesson on my 17th Birthday; passed my test on the first attempt four months later; and purchased my first car at the age of 19. The rest is history.
To me, car ownership is one of the fundamentals of personal freedom. To be able to get in your own vehicle and drive to wherever you want when the mood takes you is a privilege I never take for granted. For years the dream of driving a car has propelled successive generations to tolerate the issues of expensive insurance, crowded roads and insane fuel prices. However, as various governing bodies increasingly view the car as a symbol of heathenism to be taxed into oblivion, slowly but surely new schemes are coming in – all now cloaked in the mantle of ‘environmental conscientiousness’. In the United Kingdom of 2023, no less than 7 cities (Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Sheffield) have Clean Air Zones. Marked out by a green circle with a white and green cloud in the centre, these zones make a charge for any commercial vehicle – from buses to vans to private hire. From the above list, the notable exception is Birmingham, whose burghers in their infinite ‘wisdom’ have included cars in their punitive criteria. To now enter the centre of Britain’s second largest city, you’ll be charged £8. If you happen to need the car to commute to Brum, that adds up to slightly over £2,000 for the 260 working days we have during the year. For hundreds of thousands of people across the West Midlands, their car has become their financial millstone! And for what? Does the air now whistling through the Bull Ring have the fragrant purity of, say, the Austrian Tyrol? Of course not! All that’s really happened is that Birmingham City Council made an extra £33 million in revenue during the first year the Clean Air Zone went live. That’s not to mention the almost inevitable contribution to increased traffic flows outside the zone as drivers attempt to avoid the area, thus accumulating more miles and producing more emissions in turn.
Whatever punishment England’s provincial cities have lined up to bleed drivers dry, none are remotely comparable in either scale or charges to what car owners in the capital have to endure. Initially it was former Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who conceived the principle of fleecing London’s drivers when the Congestion Charge went live in February 2003. Back then it was only £5, whereas it’s now three times that amount. And before anyone thinks this is the limit or scope of London’s Mayoral Faginism, we have the ULEZ scheme brought to life in 2019 by none other than one-man disaster area, Sadiq Khan. Originally envisaged to be co-terminous with the Congestion Charge zone (the area within the capital’s central ring road), Mayor Sid quickly extended its boundaries to include all of inner London within the North and South Circular roads. This outrageous move dragged a further 4 million people into the zone. Notwithstanding the ULEZ applying to most petrol cars older than 17 years and diesel cars older than 8 years, that still means some 100,000 cars and 35,000 vans (often the lifeblood of small business owners already struggling through a cost of lockdown crisis) having to pay £12.50 for the delight of travelling through what has now been declared is the world’s most congested city. Add in the Congestion Charge for Central London, it comes to a total of £27.50 PER DAY! What do you get for this officious shakedown? A study (https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac30c1) published in IOP Science by Daniel J Graham, Liang Ma and Marc E J Stettler of Imperial College concluded:
‘…..the ULEZ on its own was not effective in the sense that the marginal effects caused by the ULEZ on improving air quality were small, either at particular locations or averaging across London. Air quality (for NO2, NOx , and PM) has improved in London in recent years and the most significant pollution reductions were generally found BEFORE (my emphasis) 2019. This indicates that reducing air pollution requires a multi-faceted set of policies that aim to reduce emissions across sectors with coordination in the city, regional, and transboundary scales.’
I believe it’s fair to argue that the ULEZ has, self-evidently, failed in its mission. As for the Congestion Charge, with London now being the world’s most congested city, where is the efficacy there? All I can see is many, many Londoners penalised by taxation creep over the past 20 years for the ‘crime’ (in political circles) of owning their own transport.
As Khan plans to extend the ULEZ zone to include the whole of Greater London, he is finding several borough councils in the outer suburbs are not as amenable to seeing their constituents made poorer for the sake of Khan’s other religion, namely environmental zealotry. My old stomping ground in Bromley (https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/23361556.mayor-london-responds-bromley-berlin-wall-ulez-comments/) has been particularly scathing in its challenge to the Mayor’s larceny. As you might expect from the Left, the response from the Mayor and his officials have included all the usual insults. But when terms like ‘climate denial’ and ‘stoking fear’ don’t cut the mustard, why not go the whole hog and use ‘far-Right’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-64833639)? Isn’t that the default the Left always resort to nowadays? If ‘far-Right’ means having a desire to eat meat; recognising there are only two genders; wanting to secure our national borders; curtailing immigration to acceptable levels; safeguarding our Kingdom’s constitutional integrity; and owning my own vehicle without the fear of being taxed until the lymph nodes in my armpits are squeezed to the point disintegration, then I’ll gladly wear that badge, Sadiq. Got a problem with that? Tough!!
Did you know London doesn’t make into the ranks of the world’s top fifty most polluted cities? Europe’s largest metropolis by some distance doesn’t even make a listing in the continent’s Top 20! Amsterdam, Paris, Nicosia, Berlin, Bucharest, Warsaw, Zagreb, Athens, Vienna and Sarajevo all rank above London in the pollution stakes. Yet, as with so many things, British people are always vulnerable to the extortive whims of our self-declared ‘betters’. I wish Bromley Council in its joint legal challenge alongside Bexley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey all the best in halting this pernicious modern version of highway robbery.