Drivers of the most polluting vehicles will be charged to enter central London from April 2019 after Mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed plans for the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone to come into force a year earlier than planned.
The scheme, originally approved by former Mayor Boris Johnson, was due to launch in 2020 but Mr Khan says the poor quality of London’s air means it must start sooner.
Drivers of petrol vehicles that don’t meet Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 standards will have to pay a daily fee of £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes and £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs.
At launch the scheme will cover central London but will be extended across Greater London for heavy diesel vehicles, including buses, coaches and lorries, in 2020, and up to the North and South Circular roads for cars and vans in 2021.
The charge will apply 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and will be levied on top of the existing congestion charge fee.
Mayor Khan said: “The air in London is lethal and I will not stand by and do nothing.
“Subject to consultation, I want to introduce the Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London in April 2019. This alone will mean the capital has the toughest emission standard of any world city.
“But the scale of our air quality challenge is so big that I need to go further. I want to expand the ULEZ from 2020 for heavy vehicles such as buses, coaches and lorries so that all of London will benefit from cleaner air.
“Then from 2021, I want to expand it up to the North and South Circular roads for light vehicles, including cars and vans. These measures will help improve the air that millions of Londoners breathe.”
Mr Khan’s announcement has been welcomed by Leonie Cooper, Labour’s Environment spokesperson on the London Assembly, who said: “London’s toxic air is a public health emergency. We must make the radical changes needed to rid our city of this silent killer and bringing forward the Ultra Low Emission Zone, and making it bigger and better than that already proposed, is a necessary step towards making that happen.
“The Mayor should now go even further by ensuring those areas in South London beyond the South circular aren’t left exposed to worrying levels of air pollution, and by expanding the charge to light vehicles before 2021.
“Poor air quality prematurely claims the lives of about 10,000 Londoners every year. Many more are left with damage to their health, and children and the poor are particularly vulnerable. It is beyond shameful that this is the reality we’re faced with in 21st century Britain.
“A compensatory diesel scrappage scheme, a new Clean Air Act, and reformed vehicle excise duty are also key to tackling our toxic air.
“After years of inaction under Boris Johnson, the Mayor’s ambitious proposals are hugely welcome, but we need a willingness from government to deliver on these asks. The health of Londoners depends on it.”
However opposition Assembly Members were more critical.
The Green Party’s Caroline Russell said: “Londoners suffering from asthma, and other health conditions, worsened by the dirty air, will be desperately disappointed by the Mayor’s sluggish timetable for clean air that backtracks on his manifesto promise.
“His original plans outlined a London-wide ULEZ for buses, coaches and lorries ‘as early as 2019’  with an all-vehicle ULEZ to the north and south circular by 2020.
“It’s very disappointing to see these delayed when around 9,000 deaths in London are attributed to air pollution every year.
“I have asked the Mayor what has changed that has led to this delay since the consultation, at the end of last year. Waiting until 2020 just isn’t good enough, the Mayor needs to show more ambition and leadership on this urgent public health issue.
“The Mayor has kicked a ULEZ for all vehicles into the long grass – leaving it to be dealt with in the next term is just too risky.
“Londoners need more action from the Mayor, he needs to deliver clean air as soon as possible. If he was really ambitious he would be looking at proposals for a London-wide ULEZ for all vehicles.”
Conservative AM Shaun Bailey said: “The Mayor has failed to listen to heavy opposition to this earlier implementation – most notably from London’s emergency services.
“Our police, fire and ambulance services will have to pay millions of pounds to replace their fleets with cleaner vehicles early or be charged heavy daily rates for saving people’s lives. They should be exempted from this earlier deadline.
“The Mayor has also ignored warnings about extending the zone to lesser polluted areas of London.
“Although he has pushed back the extension to 2021, millions of Londoners face paying exorbitant charges for driving in areas where air pollution is below legal limits.
“London’s air needs to be improved but taxing our emergency services and Londoners in greener parts of the city does not achieve that.”
Concerns have also been raised by the Federation of Small Businesses which said that, although poor air quality needs tackling, the decision to introduce the ULEZ earlier doesn’t allow sufficient time for businesses to upgrade their fleets.
London Policy Chair, Sue Terpilowski OBE, said: “The FSB supports the principle of improving air quality and removing from the roads those vehicles that contribute disproportionately to air pollution.
“No responsible business organisation can condone the use of excessively polluting engines. However, we are concerned about the need to ensure that any improvements in air quality are not achieved at a disproportionately high cost to business – with damaging consequences for jobs, business viability and the economy as a whole.
“Micro and small businesses face disproportionately higher costs than medium and large-sized ones in carrying out business activities.
“We do not want to see tradesmen, coach companies, construction business owners or market traders refusing to serve London, which is why transport policy in London needs to recognise the difference between essential and non-essential journeys.”
Mr Khan’s decision to exempt London’s black cabs from the charge has also come in for criticism.
Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in London, said: “We welcome sensible measures to tackle air pollution in the capital such as the Ultra Low Emissions Zone.
“More than 60 per cent of miles travelled with Uber are already in hybrid or electric vehicles and we’re going even further with more fully electric cars and a network of rapid chargers.
“Londoners will, however, be astounded that the Mayor has exempted black cabs from measures which apply to everyone else.
“This is particularly surprising since Transport for London’s own figures show black taxis are responsible for 18% of road transport Nitrogen Oxide emissions in central London.”