ULEZ Clear Air Zone

London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone underwent a major expansion in the last few days of August and now covers the entirety of London. Safe to say, it’s not been universally popular. Like it or not though, the ULEZ seems like it’s here to stay, at least for the time being. That means if you’re looking for a new car through one of our online car auctions, and there’s a good chance you’ll be driving through Greater London on a semi-regular basis, then it’s worth getting yourself up to speed on the latest.

Amidst all the current controversy surrounding the expansion, one of the main questions on everyone’s lips is: will ULEZ really make a difference to public health? Let’s take a quick look!

A quick recap of the ULEZ

The ULEZ has its genesis in the Low Emissions Zone, which was introduced in London by the Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone, all the way back in the halcyon days of 2008. The overarching idea is to improve London’s air quality by charging heavy diesel vehicles that don't meet minimum emissions standards. Over the years, the Low Emissions Zone was expanded several times, and now covers most of Greater London.

However, the measures of the Low Emissions Zone were ultimately deemed to be insufficient, and so the Ultra Low Emissions Zone was created in July 2014 by Boris Johnson, who at the time was the Conservative mayor of London. It was confirmed by a consultation in 2015, and backed by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

Initially, the ULEZ was scheduled to take effect in Central London from 7th of September 2020, but Johnson’s successor, Mayor Sadiq Khan, brought it forward by a year to 2019 – a move that made him a hero or a pariah, depending on who you ask.

The ULEZ has covered central London since 2019, and it was expanded in October 2021 to cover a greater area. Then just a few weeks ago, it was expanded again to cover the entirety of all London boroughs, including the City of London, which means anyone driving an older, non-compliant vehicle through these areas will be subject to a fine.

Why is it being introduced?

Primarily, the main aim of the ULEZ is to reduce air pollution, because the levels in the majority of UK cities – including London – are far beyond the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. (There’s strong evidence to support the assertion that air pollution has significant healthcare impacts – enough that the UK government now considers it the single biggest risk to public health.)

The ULEZ is specifically designed to reduce the airborne concentrations of air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny particles known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5). A significant amount of these pollutants are generated by the UK’s transport sector, and they can have noticeable impacts even on healthy people. Air pollution also has the potential to particularly affect people with existing breathing problems like asthma, or heart conditions.

Crucially, it’s worth noting that the ULEZ is targeted exclusively at air pollution. In other words, it’s distinct from climate change measures, because that’s a related but slightly different problem. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, so addressing this is not within the main remit of clean-air zones.

Is there any evidence that ULEZ has a positive effect on public health?

In short – yes. Most studies show that clean air zones reduce pollution.

One study (dated July 2022) published in the Journal of Environmental Health, found statistically significant reductions in nitrogen dioxide within the first 90 days after the introduction of the ULEZ, compared with the same period in 2018.

And February of 2023, the Mayor of London published an overall assessment of the ULEZ after its second expansion in October 2021, and found that the number of non-compliant vehicles driving within its area fell by 60%. In case you’re wondering, that’s an average reduction of 74,000 vehicles driving through the zone – each day!)

According to the report, within the ULEZ’s first 10 months of operation, it:

  • Reduced road transport NOx emissions by 35%
  • Reduced CO2 emissions by 6% within the zone

The October 2021 expansion then improved on these benefits. When compared with pre-ULEZ levels, the report found that the scheme had:

  • Successfully lowered nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by 21% in inner London – which includes Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, and Wandsworth, as well as all the districts of Inner London
  • Successfully lowered nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by 46% in Central London (widely considered to include the all the boroughs of Inner London, as well as the City of London district, the majority of Westminster borough, and part of Camden

As an extra bonus, there are even a couple of carbon reduction benefits too. It’s been estimated that the ULEZ has led to a reduction of around 800,000 tonnes of carbon emissions from vehicles across London over the span of about four years. That equates to a saving of about 3% - which doesn’t look like much, but within the ULEZ itself, that’s a saving of about 290,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Now, it’s worth highlighting that the ULEZ isn’t going to solve the nation’s air quality problem all by itself – but it is making a significant start, and enough to enable a sizeable proportion of the population to enjoy small health benefits. And for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK, even relatively small improvements can make a major difference to their quality of life. (So with that said, it’ll be interesting to see if the Manchester Clean Air Zone ever goes ahead!)

And if you’ve got an old polluting vehicle that you want to replace, or you’re looking for second-hand vehicles you can disassemble for parts to fix newer compliant ones, then you’re in exactly the right place. Here at RAW2K, we’ve got a huge range of salvage cars to choose from in our online car auctions, including not just models from the likes of Ford and Volkswagen, but also other world-famous brands like MercedesHonda, and Peugeot. Our auctions are refreshed on a daily and weekly basis, so there are always bargains to be found. Why not take a look around, and see what you can find?