NEWS AND VIEWS: There are many people who believe that the Mayor of London’s Ulez scheme is about making money and that it will not significantly improve the air quality in London. The Times has a report on Monday, August 21, 2023 which supports that suggestion.
The Times’ report is that initially a study by the department of civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College, London University, found that the introduction of Ulez in 2019 cut nitrogen dioxide by less than 3%. Further, the scheme had insignificant effects on ozone and particulate matter. “Particulate matter” refers to the small carbon molecules and particles that come out of vehicle exhausts, from disk brakes and tyre wear and tear, which pollute the environment and harm people.
So, the study found that Ulez wouldn’t really solve these problems. However, under a freedom of information request by The Sunday Telegraph emails have been released which show that Shirley Rodrigues, the mayor’s deputy for environment and energy, wrote to Frank Kelly, a director of Imperial’s environmental research group, in November 2021, complaining that there are publications online and in hardcopy newspapers with stories about a “misleading” Ulez study. What she was allegedly saying is that these newspapers were publishing the news that Ulez was not going to benefit air quality and she regarded that as misleading information despite the fact that it was the result of a study.
And allegedly she wanted something done about it in order to promote Ulez and sell it to the public. In one email Kelly said: “I was dismayed about its limitations [she is referring to the study that I have referred to above] and the erroneous associated press release from another section of Imperial. I appreciate the level of damage ensured [meaning guaranteed] and I am pursuing options internally to offset this if possible. I would be happy to provide the [Greater London authority] with support required as you move to mitigate the damage to what I believe is a world-leading air pollution policy.”
Rodriguez replied responded by asking “if there is anything you’d be happy to put on record now?” and in response Kelly suggested amendments to the study report in which it stated that the mayor’s schemes “have dramatically reduced air pollution in London”.
The implication is that the mayor’s office was influencing the findings of this study and that the study scientists agreed to those suggested changes because Imperial’s environmental research group has been paid at least £802,958 by the mayor’s office since 2021 including a payment of £45,958 for a report on the “future health benefits of Merrell air quality policies”.
The suggestion there, once again, is that when an authority such as the mayor’s office funds research they can and often do influence the outcomes. The study no longer becomes independent and objective but a public relations exercise. That is the allegation. And at this stage it is an allegation but the released emails strongly suggest that there has been some shenanigans going on to promote Ulez.