London mayor Sadiq Khan accused the Government of “weaponising air pollution” ahead of his expansion of the capital’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez).
In an interview with the PA news agency, the Labour mayor said he was “disappointed” at the lack of Government support for the policy and its accompanying scrappage scheme.
From Tuesday, the Ulez will be expanded to include the whole of the capital, making it the world’s largest pollution charging area.
People who drive in the zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
A £160 million scheme run by Transport for London (TfL) enables residents, small businesses, sole traders and charities scrapping non-compliant cars to claim grants.
Mr Khan expressed frustration that the scrappage programme has no Government funding, unlike those run in several other English cities.
He said: “It was this Government that gave financial support to cities like Bristol, Birmingham and Portsmouth towards their clean air zones.
“If clean air is right for them then why isn’t clean air right for London?
“Why has the Government given no support to London? I am disappointed at the lack of support from the Government.
“I am disappointed that they seem to be weaponising air pollution and climate change.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Both transport and air quality are devolved to London, which is why they are the direct responsibility of the Mayor of London.
“In fact, the Government has provided TfL £6 billion since 2020 to keep public transport moving and almost £102 million for projects specifically targeted to help tackle air pollution.”
To comply with Ulez standards, petrol cars must generally have been first registered after 2005, while most diesel cars registered after September 2015 are also exempt from the charge.
TfL says nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are compliant.
Separate figures obtained by the RAC show more than 690,000 licensed cars in the whole of London are likely to be non-compliant.
This does not take into account other types of vehicles or those which enter London from neighbouring counties.
Some opponents of Ulez expansion claim the policy is aimed at generating money for TfL and criticised the mayor for introducing it during the cost of living crisis.
But Mr Khan said: “I am quite clear in relation to the evidence I have seen that the consequences of air pollution is heartbreaking when you have spent time with a bereaved mum.
“It’s really heartbreaking when you get an in-patients ward and see the consequences of air pollution, but also it is inspiring to see that some of these policies can transform people’s lives.”
Anti-Ulez vigilantes have repeatedly targeted enforcement cameras installed in the new areas in recent months.
Videos have been posted online showing people described as Blade Runners cutting the cameras’ wires or completely removing the devices.
The Metropolitan Police said it had recorded 288 crimes relating to the cameras as of August 1.
Ulez expansion has become a political issue, being blamed for Labour’s failure to win last month’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip parliamentary by-election.
Asked what level of support he believes he has for the policy, Mr Khan replied: “We have been trying to make sure we can both tackle air pollution, tackle the climate emergency but help support Londoners during this transition.
“The vast majority of Londoners want to see clean air and I recognise there are some Londoners with genuine concerns.
“My job is to try and address those concerns and I have been doing that.”
PA – Neil Lancefield and Helen William