London fights legal challenge over expanding clean-air zone

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s expansion of a fiercely debated scheme that charges the most polluting vehicles in the city should be blocked, local authorities bringing a legal challenge over the plan argued on Tuesday.

The British capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) levies a 12.50 pound ($16) daily charge on drivers of non-compliant vehicles, in order to tackle pollution and improve air quality.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan last year decided to extend the scheme to cover almost all of the Greater London area, encompassing an extra five million people in leafier and less-connected outer boroughs, from the end of next month.

The decision has pitched Khan and health campaigners against those who say they cannot tolerate another economic hit at a time of soaring living costs.

Khan, who is running for a third four-year term in the 2024 London mayoral election, has said he is determined to face down his critics.

But his plan, which echoes hundreds of others in place in traffic-choked cities across Europe, came under challenge at London’s High Court on Tuesday as five local authorities argued the decision to expand ULEZ into their areas was unlawful.

London’s transport authority – Transport for London (TfL) – had launched a public consultation on the plan, which said 91% of vehicles driven in outer London would not be affected.

However, the local authorities’ lawyers argue that TfL provided no detail on how it calculated the 91% figure, which they say was fundamental to justifying the expansion.

The local authorities are also challenging Khan’s decision to not extend a 110 million pound scrappage scheme to those living just outside the expanded ULEZ. The scheme subsidises the cost of buying a replacement vehicle for those affected.

Lawyers representing Khan and TfL argued in court filings that TfL provided sufficient information for the consultation and said that extending the scrappage scheme beyond London was rejected in order to target those directly affected.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Devika Syamnath)