Traders and residents in Harrow Weald fear the cost of living crisis and ULEZ expansion could turn their area into a ghost town. As customers tighten their belts, businesses in Headstone are losing custom as they struggle not to pass on the rising costs.
The town in Harrow is mostly known for its Overground station, Headstone Lane, and its 14th century Grade II listed moated manor house and museum, Headstone Manor. But it is mainly a quiet residential area with small family run shops and independent businesses, meaning it’s arguably more susceptible to the impacts of a loss of trade and increased costs.
Sital, 53, owns and runs the local Post Office on Long Elmes and says the combination of the soaring cost of living and Ultra Low Emissions Zone has been “very impactful” on both his business and his home life. He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “It’s ridiculous, my bills have doubled.”
The electricity bill at the Post Office has gone from £3,000 a month to £8,000 so Sital has had to find ways of being more cost effective, which has included downsizing his fridges and freezers. He hasn’t wanted to raise prices in the shop in case his customers are priced out and go elsewhere.
Sital makes a set margin of 20 per cent on wholesale prices but that is being eaten into by costs rising elsewhere. He said: “Everything’s going up, bills, rent, everything, but the amount of takings are going down.”
He added: “I can understand that people don’t have a lot of money to spend. I can’t really expect them to buy anything as they can’t afford it. It affects people in different ways; in this area people have been hit hard and they’re definitely a lot tighter in their spending.”
Since the ULEZ expansion, Sital has also had to reduce the number of times he goes to the cash and carry from three times a week to once a week. He called it a “nightmare” as he is trying to increase his sales volume as his margins are squeezed.
He said: “For me, going to the wholesaler now is not cost effective. It’s a killer. I’ll have to buy a new car, there’s no other option. I’ve got another issue, I also have to drop my son off at the station in the mornings but that’s costing me £12.50 every time so I can only do it twice a week.”
Sital said his business has been hit by “one thing after another” after the pandemic. He adds: “It’s a knock on since Covid; first it’s the energy prices, then the cost of living crisis, and now the ULEZ. It’s deflating people’s ego, they’re just getting hit constantly by charges. What’s going to be next?”
This is a similar story told by residents throughout Headstone. Imran Mughal, 47, has been running his building business, ihome, for the past 10 years. He told the LDRS that many of his customers can’t afford to pay his increased rates caused by inflation coupled with the £12.50 daily ULEZ charge.
He said: “We’ve got a cost of living crisis going on. I’ve had long standing customers for the last 10 years. Before I could quote them for a job and they’d ask if I wanted the money now or later. The same customers are now coming back to me with their budget, with a price, and I’m getting beat.”
ULEZ was rolled out across London’s outer boroughs on August 29, meaning drivers of non compliant vehicles will have to pay £12.50 a day to drive through the zone. Much like Sital, tradespeople in Headstone are feeling the effects of the cost of living and ULEZ more than most. On top of his customers being forced to tighten their purse strings, inflation has meant the cost of materials have risen, diesel prices have shot up again, and many are having to fork out for newer vans.
Imran’s van wasn’t ULEZ compliant so he was forced to make use of the mayor’s scrappage scheme in order to try and salvage his family business. He explains that he had to start invoicing customers for hundreds of pounds extra due to ULEZ if a job was going to take weeks and “not everyone can afford it”.
He claims he is “still waiting” for the £7,000 cheque to come through but asks “what will that even get me?” He said: “A ULEZ compliant van is going to cost £15,000 upwards. I shouldn’t have to. At the moment I’ve got my wife’s little Honda and I’ve got a few hand tools in there but I can’t carry sheets of plaster board or ladders on it. I’ve got three little children so how long can I really just sit?”
Earlier this year Harrow, alongside councils in Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley and Surrey challenged the ULEZ scheme through a judicial review. However, the landmark High Court case ruled in favour of the mayor on July 28, concluding that the expansion is lawful.
Harrow Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Marilyn Ashton, said: “We have had loads of emails, phone calls and posts on local Facebook and WhatsApp groups from residents who are very unhappy about this, cannot afford a new car and regard the scrappage scheme as wholly inadequate.”
Energy prices have been growing since February of last year following Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. A lower price cap in July meant energy prices fell for the first time in around 20 months, however, residents are still facing higher costs than before the war and inflation is hitting people hard.
Linda, 71, has lived in the area for 40 years and said people are “really struggling” to manage as prices continue to rise. She said: “There’s no help for anyone. It’s very difficult, we’re all in it here. The little shops and local businesses haven’t got a chance.”
She added: “Everyone is struggling, it’s absolutely horrendous. I’m being persecuted for my bills too, I always pay them but I was one day late and they were on me. A loan shark wouldn’t threaten me like this. It’s disgusting.”
Linda said that she sometimes doesn’t even put her hot water or electricity on anymore as she is “petrified” about what it might cost. She described her house throughout the winter as “like a fridge” and decried the amount of profits energy firms have made throughout the crisis. She added: “The whole world’s gone mad. These companies and politicians don’t have a clue how people like us live.”
While many Londoners are facing the financial impacts of the ULEZ expansion, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has repeatedly stood by the scheme saying it’s vital to tackle the threats of climate change and toxic air affecting Londoners’ health. Speaking when he announced the scrappage scheme was to be extended to all Londoners, Mr Khan said the expansion of ULEZ was “an incredibly difficult decision for me” but the right thing to do.