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Battle for clean air: the row raging over London’s ultra-low emission zone

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A s parents walk with their children next to four lanes of fume-belching traffic in Kingston, Oliver Lord sighs. “We shouldn’t be setting a carer with a car against a mum looking after her son with asthma in hospital,” says Lord, who is head of strategy for the Clean Cities campaign.He and other campaigners are dismayed at how clean air has become a political battleground, with tensions rising over plans to extend an ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to cover the whole of Greater London.Last week, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was confronted by protesters carrying a sign depicting him with a swastika and a hammer and sickle at a public meeting in Ealing, west London.

Khan himself did little to calm matters, claiming that people with legitimate objections to the Ulez expansion had been “joining hands” with the far right. “Some of those outside are part of the far right,” he said. “Some are Covid deniers.

Some are vaccine deniers and some are Tories.”The unlikely coalition of London Ulez opponents ranges from Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP for North East Somerset, and Conservative-controlled councils in and around London to anti-vaccination activists including Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred and Piers Corbyn.But it includes plenty of ordinary people too, from builders and sales managers to chefs and carers.

Consumer finance expert Martin Lewis, speaking alongside Khan at an event on the cost of living last month, also raised concerns. “The reasons behind [expanding Ulez] are good, but the timing is pretty tough to do it this year in a cost of living crisis.”The Ulez was Boris Johnson’s plan, originally confined to the city centre, but expanded in 2021 by Khan to cover inner London.

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