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Hillingdon residents provide thoughts on newly introduced ULEZ scheme

The day many in Outer London were dreading finally arrived as yesterday (Tuesday August 29) marked the deadline for the introduction of ULEZ. Residents in Hillingdon have long stuck their heads above the parapet in an attempt to prevent the zone from spreading to their borough but all measures to stop the expansion, including legal challenges, have failed.

Sadiq Khan’s flagship policy has inspired an enormous backlash from certain groups, with the virulent strain of anger it has caused leading to protests, political stunts and even vandalism. However, now it has finally arrived what do people think of the contentious scheme? After all the fury on display has ULEZ amounted to everything its critics say it would? Or have the people of Hillingdon decided to grin and bear it until, as Deputy Mayor Seb Dance puts it, “the sting” of ULEZ opposition will subside?

Local Democracy Reporting Services (LDRS) spoke to residents about how ULEZ has affected them and whether a post-ULEZ London feels any different. While protests raged outside Downing Street, Uxbridge (one of the key centres of Hillingdon life) was bustling but not bristling.

There were no banners, no angry slogans being chanted or traders lighting their 10 year old diesel vans on fire in protest near the Tube station, the sense was very much ‘business as usual’. Enjoying a bit of shopping was long term resident Robert Cash.

He and his wife told LDRS that they weren’t drivers but that their sons had been hit by the new policy. “My son and his wife, he’s had to purchase another car this week because he car a Qashqai it didn’t meet the new requirements. He had to go out and buy another car for her which is another Qashqai but an updated model which now complies. But she hasn’t got it yet. I remember hearing him tell her ‘well if you go on using it [her old car] for the next four you are going to have to pay £12.50 a day”. It’s not fair on people.”

Hillingdon residents provide thoughts on newly introduced ULEZ scheme Harrow Online
Robert Cash, Hillingdon Resident, speaks to LDRS about ULEZ. Permission to use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett/MyLondon

“I know the outer boroughs, Hillingdon being one, challenged this in court and they lost right. Why extend this to the outer boroughs because the air quality as far as I understand is of high quality. By extending it nothing is to be gained. So it’s just a tax really.”

Robert’s other son is a painter decorator who has to replace his van with a small car, transporting his equipment in a roof rack. “Vans are an essential tool for your trade,” says Robert, adding: “It’s [ULEZ] all a terrible inconvenience and it’s not necessary.”

Sarah Jones is only in Uxbridge for a few weeks to support her partner while he does some training for a possible new job. She drove into London from Winchester which under the new rules would mean that she and her partner would have to pay the £12.50 charge.

“I think I’m probably in the minority but I don’t think it’s that much of a bad thing, to be honest. I think that we need to do something about emission levels and I think that in built-up areas we should be working harder to improve public transport links to deter people from driving. I think if there was a better infrastructure for that then people wouldn’t see it as such a bad thing.”

Sarah says that with her partner’s potential new job being centred in London a move to the capital could be on the cards. If she were to move ULEZ wouldn’t be an issue. “Public transport’s here. I do think there should be more to improve those services to make them run more efficiently, more regularly, and more space. But I think if we can improve those things and deter people from using their vehicle that can only be good for the environment.”

Sarah drove into London before the £12.50 charge was implemented and says the cost would have made her ‘think twice about driving’ but says the direct train from her home in Winchester to Waterloo Station is a handy alternative – one that she says others who live outside should also be considering.

Despite being in a rush father and daughter Patrick and Stephenie Marshal explain to LDRS their difficulties with the new scheme. Stephanie says that trying to find a ULEZ-compliant vehicle for her disabled mother, who has only recently passed away, was almost impossible.

“I was desperately trying to change the car but everything was non-compliant,” she said, adding “two thousand pounds from the scrappage scheme really wouldn’t have gotten us very far because the vehicles are around £30,000.”

The scrappage scheme allows for up to £5,000 Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) however in this case it would still have left Stephanie with £25,000 to conjure up.

Although the search for an appropriate vehicle is no longer the family’s concern, ULEZ is still impacting them. Patrick says that the expansion will affect his wife’s funeral. “The guests are going to have to pay the charge when they come to London for the funeral.”

“It’s an impact all round,” adds Stephanie. “I had to get rid of my car because I live in West Drayton and it was a diesel. I’m not driving my dad’s car because the scrappage scheme doesn’t cover it.”

Despite all of the issues the family seem to be in favour of the scheme but says they understand why people aren’t happy – in their case, for obvious reasons. With Uxbridge functioning as business as usual, there were businesses out on the street to try and capture the footfall.

Directly outside the front of the Tube station, a few feet from a fruit seller’s stand, sat a man selling balloons. He asked to remain anonymous but told LDRS that ULEZ has impacted his business, something he has been doing in the area for 42 years.

Hillingdon residents provide thoughts on newly introduced ULEZ scheme Harrow Online
Balloon Seller, Uxbridge, Hillingdon, speaks to LDRS about ULEZ and impact on his business. Permission to use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett/MyLondon

The balloon seller said that he paid the first charge of many on his van to use it to transport his wares to Uxbridge. Selling his balloons for £5 – £6.50 the charge has roughly cost him two of his items in revenue before he’s even sat down for the day’s trade.

“I don’t think a lot of it. I didn’t think it would get through, so it’s just money-grabbing as far as I’m concerned.

“I had two vans, I had to sell one and the other one I’ve got to pay £12.50. I did it for today. I will have to pay for it every day if I use the van so I probably won’t come so much.”

He also adds that he can’t afford to buy a new van and that there is a waiting list for second hand vans that would be within his price range. While Uxbridge remains quite subdued in other parts of the borough photos show a new ULEZ camera torn down and spray painted with ‘No ULEZ’ and on the other side of town protests saw anti-ULEZ marchers parade around central London, joined by contentious figures such as Nigel Farage and Piers Corbyn.

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has said that yesterday was a “landmark” one for London, “as the ultra low emission zone expands to ensure every Londoner breathes cleaner air”.

The Mayor of London added: ““We’ve already seen huge progress since I announced the expansion.

“On the eve of the roll out 9 in 10 cars seen driving in the zone on an average day are already compliant and won’t pay a penny. Financial help is available for every single Londoner and small business whose vehicle is not compliant.

“It was a very tough decision to expand the zone, but with toxic air leading to around 4,000 premature deaths each year and our children growing up with stunted lungs, it is the right thing to do.”