Voters Support ULEZ-Style Policies, Finds New Poll

The public is misinformed about Sadiq Khan’s scheme and is widely supportive of policies that impose charges on more polluting vehicles, polling for DeSmog shows.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, accompanied by the Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack, visits the Shell St Fergus Gas Plant near Aberdeen. Credit: Simon Walker / 10 Downing Street, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Voters back schemes that charge road users for driving highly polluting vehicles, according to a new poll from Omnisis for DeSmog. 

A higher proportion of voters (44 percent) support ULEZ-style schemes than don’t (36 percent), according to the polling. People who intend to vote Conservative at the next election support charges on more polluting vehicles by a margin of 47 percent to 36 percent. 

Voters also significantly overestimate the proportion of vehicles that will be charged under London’s expanded ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), suggesting that misinformation may have influenced public attitudes towards the scheme.

The Omnisis poll, conducted on 27 and 28 July, also showed that the Conservative Party is more likely to lose support if it delays its policies to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election on 20 July, which saw the Conservatives narrowly retain the seat by fighting an anti-ULEZ campaign, Rishi Sunak has seemingly pinpointed a retreat from green policies a potential vote winner. 

Since the by-election, Sunak has announced a national review of low-traffic neighbourhoods, has supported more fossil fuel extraction, while saying that he is “on the side” of motorists. 

However, the Omnisis poll shows that 17 percent of people are less likely to vote for the Conservative Party if it delays “some of its policies to achieve net zero”, versus just 13 percent who are more likely to vote for the party. 

Overall, just 13 percent of people said that the government is doing well on climate change and net zero, with 58 percent believing that the government is not doing well – including 43 percent of those who intend to vote Tory at the next election. 

An overwhelming majority (74 percent) of under-40s polled by Omnisis said that the government is not doing well on climate change and net zero. 

The government today announced that it plans on awarding hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas exploration licences, beginning this autumn, with Energy and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps recently declaring that he wants to “max out” the UK’s North Sea oil and gas reserves. 

The International Energy Agency has stated that net zero is incompatible with new oil and gas exploitation. 

“This polling shows the public way ahead of the government when it comes to the climate crisis. They don’t want to be dragged backwards by this Tory government – they want action to tackle the climate emergency and other environmental crises,” Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, told DeSmog.

ULEZ Misinformation

London Mayor Sadiq Khan intends to expand the ULEZ, which was first introduced in April 2019, to all London boroughs from August this year. Under the scheme, a daily charge of £12.50 will be levied on those who drive polluting vehicles that don’t meet minimum standards for exhaust fumes. The ULEZ currently only covers the area within London’s north and south circular roads.

According to a City Hall report published in February, harmful pollution levels in central London have reduced by 46 percent compared to a scenario without the ULEZ. 

However, the Conservative Party has used the ULEZ expansion as a key campaigning issue, deploying anti-ULEZ Facebook ads that were seen more than three million times in the run-up to May’s local elections.

These adverts were sensationalist, with some labelling the ULEZ expansion as a “driving charge” and others claiming that it will be a £12.50 daily charge “on cars”. 

In reality, virtually all new cars sold in the UK since 2005 meet ULEZ emissions standards, while Transport for London (TfL) estimates that 91 percent of private cars, 97 percent of private hire vehicles, and 82 percent of light goods vehicles in outer London meet ULEZ emissions standards.

Data from Experian published by the New Statesman suggests that 79 percent of vehicles in Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be exempt from the ULEZ expansion – a slightly lower figure than the 90 percent estimated by TfL in relation to outer London as a whole. 

However, the Omnisis polling suggests that voters vastly overestimate the proportion of vehicles that will be charged when the scheme expands. 

Only 18 percent of respondents nationally (and 22 percent of those living in London) correctly said that 90 percent of vehicles would be exempt from the ULEZ expansion. Nearly half (48 percent) suggested that the £12.50 charge would apply to over half of vehicles, while 20 percent of people guessed that 70 percent of vehicles would be charged. 

It’s “quite clear” that “lots of bits of misinformation about ULEZ and the ULEZ expansion” were spread during the Uxbridge and South Ruislip contest, Sadiq Khan has said, adding that “nobody countered that misinformation.”

Misplaced views about the scope of the ULEZ expansion may have motivated opposition to the scheme, the polling suggests, which is confirmed when respondents were asked about whether they support charges on higher polluting vehicles.

Aside from voters who intend to cast their ballots for the Reform Party at the next election, voters from all parties are more likely to support ULEZ-style schemes than oppose them. According to the Omnisis polling, 31 percent of Reform supporters are in favour of charging high pollution vehicles, while 59 percent oppose the policy. 

Reform’s candidate for the 2024 London mayoral election, motoring lobbyist Howard Cox, has called on the ULEZ scheme to be scrapped entirely. 

The Conservative Party’s candidate, Susan Hall, has said that she will reverse the expansion of ULEZ on her “first day”, if she wins. Hall has previously called for the reintroduction of fracking in Britain, has said that net zero targets should be delayed, and has spread climate science denial online – though her spokesperson said that Hall now supports net zero and the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

Labour has itself called for Khan to “reflect on” the impact of the ULEZ expansion, in the wake of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip result. 

The Conservative Party was approached for comment. 

The Omnisis poll was conducted on the 27 and 28 July 2023, questioned 1,339 people and was weighted to a national representative population. The full tables and methodology can be found here

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Sam is DeSmog’s UK Deputy Editor. He was previously the Investigations Editor of Byline Times and an investigative journalist at the BBC. He is the author of two books: Fortress London, and Bullingdon Club Britain.

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