Deputy London mayor accused over ULEZ emails pulls out of media appearance

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A deputy London mayor accused of attempting to “squash dissent” over the ultra low emission zone scheme has pulled out of a planned media appearance. Shirley Rodrigues was replaced by another deputy mayor, Seb Dance, to answer journalists’ questions at the Greater London Authority office in Southwark, south London, on Monday. Asked why Ms Rodrigues was not attending, Mr Dance said: “It’s quite boring. It’s my duty day today so I’m here representing the mayor (Sadiq Khan).” It emerged on Sunday that Ms Rodrigues had asked a City Hall-funded expert to counter science that questioned the benefits of ULEZ, which involves a £12.50 daily fee for the most polluting vehicles. The ULEZ zone is being expanded to cover the whole of the capital from August 29. Ms Rodrigues asked an academic, who was in receipt of funding from Mr Khan’s office, on two occasions to counter research and reporting about the scheme. The deputy mayor, who is responsible for environment and energy policy, emailed Professor Frank Kelly to ask whether he would be willing to “set the record straight”. This was after fellow Imperial College London academics published a study suggesting the central London ULEZ had had a relatively small effect on air pollution at its launch. Ms Rodrigues went on to work with him to draft a press statement to send out in his name.

Peter Fortune, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, said it was “unacceptable” that Mr Khan and his deputy “conspired to silence legitimate research because it would damage the mayor’s reputation and credibility”. He added: “The mayor’s office certainly shouldn’t be dictating emails for press releases or squashing dissent.” Asked about the emails, Mr Dance said: “I think it’s quite normal that you would find a level of disagreement among academics on various reports and various findings.” Mr Dance, who is responsible for transport policy, was quizzed on whether drivers who entered the expanded ULEZ area in a non-compliant vehicle without paying would initially be sent warning letters instead of fines, which are £180 reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days. He replied: “What people need to know is that ULEZ will expand on August 29 and from that moment, non-ULEZ-compliant vehicles will be subject to the charge across the whole of Greater London.” When pressed further on the issue, he said: “TfL (Transport for London) will be issuing fines going forward.” On Monday, TfL’s £160 million scrappage scheme for owners of non-compliant vehicles was extended to include all Londoners, not just those receiving benefits. People scrapping cars which do not meet the ULEZ standards can apply for a grant worth up to £2,000.

Mr Khan’s office said more than £52 million had been committed to Londoners and the capital’s small businesses and charities through the programme. The mayor said: “The decision to expand the ultra-low emission zone London-wide was not an easy one for me to make, but it is necessary to reduce toxic air pollution, protect the health of Londoners and help tackle the climate emergency. “I have continued to listen to the concerns of Londoners, and that’s why I’ve introduced the biggest vehicle scrappage scheme ever seen in the UK. “Every single Londoner with a non-compliant car and motorbike is now eligible to get support. “We are doing this without a penny of support from the Government, who have helped other cities around the country with their clean air zones. “There’s still plenty of money available in the scrappage scheme and, with one week to go until the ULEZ is expanded, I am urging all Londoners with non-compliant vehicles to apply now.”

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