AMBIVALENCE about the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to encompass the whole of Greater London has persisted since the policy came into effect at the end of August.
In March, the Church Times spoke to priests working in parishes next to the border of the newly expanded ULEZ (News, 17 March). The policy came into effect on 28 August, with a daily charge of £12.50 for the driving of vehicles that do not meet the required emissions standards.
The Vicar of St Michael’s, Wilmington, the Revd Carl Chambers, remains convinced that the policy goes “too far, too fast”. His parish is not in the ULEZ, but borders it, and many local journeys, including a visit to the crematorium, incur the charge.
Estimates suggest that just over 90 per cent of vehicles driven in the area are exempt from the charges, but Mr Chambers’s car is not one of them: he bought a new diesel car when such cars were considered a less polluting option.
The policy disproportionately affects the poorest in society, he suggests, as they are more likely to be driving older, non-compliant cars, and less likely to be able to afford a new one or to dismiss the daily charge as insignificant.
In common with many priests who spoke to the Church Times, Mr Chambers emphasised his belief in the importance of taking action to improve air quality and reduce emissions.
He argued, however, that, in his area, the policy might actually be making matters worse, as motorists attempting to avoid the charge were travelling via the centre of Dartford, and exacerbating congestion in the town.
Some anti-ULEZ campaigns have involved criminal damage to the infrastructure installed to impose the charge — acts that Mr Chambers deplored. “We need to respect the authorities in our country,” he said.
Opposition to the ULEZ comes at a point when the Government is reneging on aspects of its green agenda. In a speech on Wednesday of last week, the Prime Minister announced that the year in which selling new petrol and diesel cars would be banned would be changed from 2030 to 2035. He also announced the loosening of a range of other targets.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who is the lead bishop on the environment, described Mr Sunak’s decision as “shameful” and “short-sighted” (News, 20 September).
Unlike Mr Chambers, the Vicar of St Peter’s, Iver, in Buckinghamshire, the Revd Robert Gooding, drives a car that is ULEZ-compliant, but his assistant curate does not, and he has taken to driving her to church events so that she can avoid the charge.
“She will shortly start using another car which previously belonged to her son,” he explained. “She is sad that she can no longer use her current car, but cannot afford to continue to use it.”
The mood in the area had “become more negative in recent weeks”, he said, as people attempted to adjust to the new rules.
Another priest, who preferred not to be named, said that she had “heard of people going on mad routes to avoid the zone”. There are “lots of people really moaning, especially older people”, for whom it wasn’t practical to replace their vehicle, but who relied on a car to get around, she said.
Since speaking to the Church Times earlier this year, the Team Rector in the Vale of Roding Team Ministry, the Revd Charles Kosla, has changed his car to avoid the charges, and said he knew of others who had done the same.
For Mr Chambers, though, such movement towards greener vehicles was not a sign that the policy was a success. He argues that natural wastage meant that the majority of currently non-compliant cars would be off the roads in a few years, anyway. He reiterated: “I continue to think it’s too far, too fast.”