By Beccy Bollard
People who live in Chiswick who own older, more polluting cars will face fines of £12.50 a day for every day they drive their vehicle unless they take action now.
Over the past few weeks, select Chiswick residents have received letters from Transport For London warning them that their car will likely be eligible to be charged when London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanded to include Chiswick in three weeks’ time. From 25 October the zone, introduced initially in 2019 in Central London, is being expanded out to (but not including) the North and South circular roads.
The realisation that daily fines are imminent has caused a scramble to get rid of older cars, says James Reece, a car salesman at the Honda dealership by Chiswick Roundabout.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of people coming in to see us over the past month and I’d say 80% are asking about ULEZ” he told The Chiswick Calendar.
“People are uncertain as to how to replace their car – whether to go hybrid or fully electric. There’s huge uncertainty because there’s no real decent electric network yet”.
A fire in a Japanese manufacturing plant has further complicated matters, creating a shortage of new cars across the board and pushing prices up. Meanwhile the prices of second-hand cars which are ULEZ compliant have shot up and the price of older cars, especially diesels, has plummeted.
Honda offers just five models, one of which, their last petrol car, the Civic, they are phasing out. They have elected to be fully electrified by 2022 – ie. hybrid or electric. They, like the other car showrooms on the corner by Chiswick roundabout, offer finance deals and part exchange.
At the Honda dealership customers can pay for a new car over two, three or four years with a guaranteed buy back value, but try as he might to sell them a new model, most people, James told us, are opting to buy a second-hand car which is compliant for the time being while they weigh up their options and wait and see how the provision of electric charging points develops.
Image above: Ekaterina and Will Harwood with their 2011 Volvo XC90
What to do with the Volvo?
Will and Ekaterina Harwood are among those trying to work out what’s best to do. They drive a 2011 Volvo XC90.
“When we bought it diesel was advertised as eco-friendly fuel because of the energy consumption rate” Ekaterina told us.
They, like many people in Chiswick, use their car to ferry their children about. Ekaterina takes two of her children to school by car in the mornings, as they go to school at the French Lycee in South Kensington.
“They wouldn’t get there on time by public transport” she said “because the District Line is so unreliable”.
In the evenings they come home by themselves, but then she uses the car to take them to after school activities. They go to a hockey club on the far side of Ealing.
“They just wouldn’t get there in time by public transport” she told us.
Do they have the money to get a new car? “We do, fortunately” said Will hesitating, “just”.
Will and Ekaterina are considering either buying a hybrid or getting a cheap petrol car to use in the city and keeping the Volvo for trips outside London. Chiswick may, ironically, end up with more cars on the streets as a result of this change, though others are considering giving up owning a car, looking to lease one or join a car club such as Zipcar or Enterprise Car Club instead.
Image above: Map showing the areas of Hounslow, Richmond and Wandsworth inside the ULEZ expansion zone from 25 October 2021
Air pollution limits still being exceeded
The letter sent out by TfL to residents explains that the low emission zone is being extended ‘to help clean up London’s toxic air’. The scheme is part of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s ongoing battle against the endemic health consequences of the capital’s poor air quality, particularly those caused by the production of Nitrogen Dioxide.
Findings by Imperial College London published in January 2021 attributed between 3,600 and 4,100 Greater London deaths in 2019 to this air pollution, citing a range of contingent conditions from lung cancer to cardiovascular problems.
According to LB Hounslow’s website, the scheme is being introduced to Chiswick ‘because air pollution limits are still being exceeded in the expansion zone’. Sadiq Khan has claimed that the expansion of the zone will prevent roughly 300,000 cases of air-quality related diseases. The secondary side-effect, Khan has also voiced, will hopefully be a reduction in climate-destroying carbon emissions.
The release of these dangerous oxides of nitrogen is associated mainly with the combustion processes in diesel engines. As a general rule of thumb, those who are likely to be charged and have received a letter are those with either a Diesel car bought before 2016 or a Petrol car bought before 2006 (car owners can check whether their car is eligible for the charge by entering their registration number here: ulez.co.uk/ulez-checker).
The London Borough of Hounslow website suggests that four out of five vehicles in the area currently meet the emissions standard. According to estimates by City Hall this 140sq mile zone, which will also take in parts of other boroughs such as Ealing, Lambeth and Wandsworth, will still mean over 100,000 car owners will be liable to pay.
The planned expansion has been met with mixed responses. Speaking to local residents and businesses, while most agree tackling London’s toxic air is important, they balk at its execution. The primary concerns appear to fall into two camps: a questioning of the roll-out and its fairness, as well as its fiscal feasibility and efficacy.
How am I to get carers?
For Ania Koziell, the extension of ULEZ may lose her a very valued carer who looks after her husband Rod, who suffers from a degenerative brain disorder and needs 24 hour care. Such is the nature of his care that she has a number of carers who work at different times while she herself is out at work as a specialist kidney consultant in the NHS.
Leon drives in to Chiswick from Crawley in a older model diesel car. He needs the car to take Rod about locally.
“In the winter and when it’s raining he can take Rod out” she told us, “but having no car makes it very difficult”.
“In effect it may mean no carer cover for Rod”.
Introduction “arbitrary and unfair”
Merlin, the owner of Classic and Supercar Dealership ‘The Duke of London’ in Brentford considers the expansion of the emissions zone “nonsensical and unfair” particularly in light of Sadiq Khan’s secondary goal of cutting carbon emissions.
He is surprised that “petrol-guzzling cars” from the 1960s (for which the Duke of London has seen increased demand), as well as newer, but still equally emissions-heavy cars such as Range-Rovers, will be exempted from charges.
“I don’t know anyone whose got a positive thing to say about it” he told us.
Andre, a long-time Chiswick resident, expressed his concern for his elderly neighbours who are less “internet savvy” and may be landed with quite severe accumulated charges, taking them by surprise.
Comparing it with the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Ealing and Hounslow. he cited numerous acquaintances who had been caught in a completely “innocent mistake” and been charged heavily under the hastily introduced LTNs.
Both Andre and Merlin were also critical of the timing: as people struggle to get themselves back on track amidst the economic rubble of the pandemic, how can they be expected to purchase a brand new electric car? As the owner of a car dealership, Merlin has also stressed that they are “categorically not taking diesel cars” after a huge surge in people looking to sell. In London, people are struggling to offload their non-compliant cars and purchase alternatives, as the prices of unused cars soar and the demand for diesel cars drops off entirely.
Image above: Torin Douglas with his 14 year old Peugeot 307
Environmentally the right answer?
In the mainstream media there have also been concerns voiced about whether it is climate-friendly at all to replace relatively new diesel cars, whose creation has contributed to emissions outputs but cannot be undone, with a new electric car.
According to a 2015 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the manufacture of an electric car could require up to 68% more emissions than its petrol equivalent. The Telegraph reports: ‘you would have to drive 19,000 miles before you could begin to say you had saved a single puff of carbon emissions’.
Torin Douglas considers himself a green consumer.
“I have a modest car which is nearly 14 years old – a Peugeot 307, registered in 2007. At the time, the Government encouraged the purchase of diesel cars through tax incentives. I drive sparingly and it has done less than 59,000 miles. It runs extremely well and is economical on fuel. In London, I mainly use it to go take waste to the recycling centre and to deliver heavy loads to charity shops and the church.
“Yet from 25 October it will cost me £12.50 a day every time I drive it, on top of the higher parking charge I already pay (for a diesel car). Others may be hit harder because they need their car more often, to carry heavy shopping, visit elderly relatives or take them to hospital.
“I try to live a green life style, and we only replace kitchen equipment, the television, computer and mobile phone when they no longer work effectively. Yet now I must replace a perfectly good car with a newly-built one. So I have a couple of questions.
– What will be the environmental cost of making this new car, compared with keeping my old one?
– And why is nothing done to penalise the giant SUV cars which clog up the roads in London and are said to be “worse for the environment than you ever imagined?”
With the immediacy of the climate crisis and the divisions we have already seen on how to change our way of life quickly enough for the planet to survive, such questions are important and will be part of the ongoing debate.
But for now, as the 25 October deadline looms, Chiswick residents need to check if our cars are compliant and decide quickly what to do about it.
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