Sir Keir Starmer has blamed Sadiq Khan’s charge on polluting vehicles for Labour’s narrow defeat in Boris Johnson’s old seat.
The Labour leader said he had spoken to the London mayor about the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) as he called for reflection on “how” the expansion plans are being carried out.
Several members of the ruling Conservative Party have also called on the government to scale back their environmental plans.
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said the “lesson” from the west London result was that “there are things that we can change that will be electorally successful” as he urged ministers to “stop burdening” the public and businesses with “extra” green charges.
Rishi Sunak has also suggested that he could water down policies to tackle the climate emergency as he seeks to take a “proportionate and pragmatic” approach to achieving net zero in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record.
Stick to your guns
But environmentalists have told Labour to “stick to their guns” on the ULEZ expansion, with Chris Packham saying motorists will come around to the idea eventually – especially if he can resolve how to move the financial burden away from them.
It was a message I’d heard from the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, who faced similarly stern opposition when he rolled out the city’s Radical Mobility Plan which made driving in the city so impractical that it is almost rendered pointless.
When the proposals were first announced people decried what they saw as an overreaching of mayoral powers, especially when moves to shut down inner city car parks were brought in and cars were given set hours in which they could drive without restriction in the city.
But now, people are overwhelmingly in favour of how the public space has been reshaped, with once-blackened buildings now shimmering white and an Amsterdam-like fervour for cycling gripping residents and tourists alike.
The electric bus network is well-used and there is real incentive to, as the saying goes, ‘take the air’ with a nice walk through the city, which has a noticeable calm to it in some places, and vibrancy in others where the increased outdoor space has been used to accommodate street food stalls, bars and restaurants.
London during lockdown
It reminded me in many ways of London during lockdown, where restaurants in Soho were given license to spill out onto the streets to comply with social distancing guidelines.
China Town never looked so good, in my opinion, and it wouldn’t need a strong case for replicating that success elsewhere.
Imagine if Oxford Street, for example, wasn’t ridden with buses, taxis and rickshaws and instead resembled something like the Oude Markt in Leuven, which I can assure you doesn’t have a single vape shop or an American sweet shop in sight.
How wonderful would that be?
Getting there will require some hard yards on behalf of the London mayor and it would be a big help if the Labour leader got behind him, but it will be worthwhile when the results start to show.
It might sound perverse, but sometimes, you literally have to thrust clean air on some people.