FairFuel UK is leading the charge against the Labour mayor’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone – which will hit the most polluting vehicles including trucks and lorries

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A leading group campaigning against London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand a clean air zone to cover all of London is funded by a road haulage industry that is dependent on fossil fuel-guzzling HGVs.

FairFuel UK has frequently targeted Labour politicians over policies designed to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. But Sadiq Khan – who has made tackling air pollution one of his key issues as Mayor – appears to have been targeted with particular hostility. 

It comes as the Mayor of London plans to roll out the charge on the most polluting vehicles – affecting around 15 per cent of drivers – from inner to all of outer London this August.

That follows research from City Hall showing that more than 3,600 children were admitted to hospital with asthma in London in 2021/22 – a sharp increase of 64 per cent on the previous year when lockdowns and lower traffic levels resulted in fewer admissions, according to the mayor’s team. The expansion plans are backed by Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems in the London Assembly.

Expanding ULEZ London-wide is expected to save 27,000 tonnes of CO2 in outer London each year, nearly double that which the central London ULEZ achieved in its first year of operation. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from cars and vans in outer London are set to fall by 10 and 7% respectively, while PM2.5 from car exhaust emissions in outer London are expected to decline by nearly 16 per cent, “benefitting five million outer London residents” City Hall says.

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However, FairFuel UK – run by Kent-based campaigner Howard Cox – has claimed the Mayor is “deploying policy to suit his own personal agenda” and has led a vigorous lobbying campaign against the plans. 

According to the group itself, FairFuel UK campaign on “congestion charges, ULEZ/CAZs, parking costs, roads investment, unfair treatment for fossil-fuelled vehicle owners” as well as “alternative technology options” to phasing out fossil-fuel vehicles. It says it is funded by the Road Haulage Association, and previously by Logistics UK. 

Both groups represent HGV-heavy firms in the logistics and freight sector. The RHA describes itself as a private company “dedicated to the interests of the road haulage industry.” Road freight services produced 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 – accounting for nearly a fifth of UK transportation emissions, according to Statista. 

FairFuel UK says it has also received funding from vehicle industry groups like the RAC, the Association of Pallet Networks (representing hauliers), and UKLPG, representing the liquid petrol gas industry. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on their part. But hauliers will have to pay £100 per non-compliant lorry in outer London when Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone is expanded this August.

(Left to right) FairFuel UK’s Howard Cox, and Heidi skinner of the Freight Transport Association, with Tory MPs James Daly MP, Robert Halfon MP, Jamie Wallis MP Jonathan Gullis MP, and Duncan Buchanan of the Road Haulage Association – calling for cuts in fuel duty in 2020

Consultation Row

Howard Cox’s campaign has become increasingly vocal in recent months over ULEZ, raising allegations that around 5,000 copy-and-paste FairFuel UK emails to TfL were excluded from Transport for London’s consultation into expanding the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Around 500 pro-ULEZ identical emails from Living Streets campaigners were also excluded from the final tally of responses for/against the policy.

FairFuel UK and Conservatives on the London Assembly have claimed Sadiq Khan lied about when he knew about the findings of the consultation, a claim City Hall strongly denies. 

The final consultation found that around two thirds of respondents were opposed to expanding ULEZ this August – but it dropped to around 60% when identical lobbying emails from Fair Fuel UK and Living Streets supporters were put aside. YouGov polling of all Londoners – not just those who responded to the consultation – shows a slim majority in favour of expanding the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to tackle air pollution in the capital. 

However, last week, FairFuel UK founder Howard Cox wrote to Keir Starmer requesting he suspend Sadiq Khan from the Labour Party, saying: “A proud party should not have a member flouting democracy and unlawfully manipulating a public consultation process to suit his personal political agenda.” He tagged City Hall Tory leader Susan Hall.  

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In a statement to Byline Times, Howard Cox branded Sadiq Khan the “UK’s most unaccountable politician”. An elected assembly holds the Mayor to account, unlike other metro mayors.  

Several changes were introduced to the expanded ULEZ scheme after the consultation, including a £110m scrappage scheme, extended grace periods for vehicles used by charities and disabled people, and committing to a one million kilometre expansion of the outer London bus network.   

All of the circa 58,000 consultation responses were reviewed and analysed, except 24 responses to the consultation that were flagged as abusive or threatening, a TfL spokesperson said. 

Cox also faced a snub when he received a reply from the Department for Transport saying they would not block Sadiq Khan from extending ULEZ to cover all of London. 

A TfL spokesperson said: “The ULEZ London-wide expansion consultation was run according to industry best practice, with analysis provided by an independent consultancy. We take our responsibility to run robust and legally compliant consultations extremely seriously and we would never seek to influence the results of a consultation.

“Apart from a small number of abusive or threatening consultation responses which were discounted, all responses were reviewed and analysed. Responses from all campaign groups were also reviewed and reflected in our final consultation report, which informed the Mayor before making any decision.  The fair fuel responses were included in the final report.”


Dodgy ‘Polling’? 

In another attack on Sadiq Khan’s expansion of ULEZ in London, last week the group put out a statement arguing that “Sadiq Khan’s Politics [are] Set to damage London’s Economy”. The Mayor says it is vital to reducing toxic air pollution, but it has faced stiff opposition from driver groups and Conservatives. 

The press release included criticism from GLA Conservative leader Susan Hall towards Sadiq Khan, while Howard Cox hit out at Sadiq Khan comments on Brexit.

Howard Cox said: “London’s Mayor says Brexit is causing immense damage to London. He should butt out of national politics and focus on repairing the colossal destruction to our Capital City he has and continues to inflict. The UK’s most unaccountable politician deploys policy to suit his own personal agenda. Ignoring and manipulating the ULEZ consultation process is not only contemptible, but also possibly unlawful.” 

FairFuel UK’s “poll” on clean air charges branded them “restrictive”

In the same press release, Cox said he was “working with London Tory Assembly Members” and they had “hard evidence that Sadiq Khan excluded 5000 FairFuelUK entries opposing ULEZ expansion into Greater London in last year’s consultation process.” 

The TfL consultation is clear that it received thousands of responses from outside London – nearly all from FairFuel UK. It adds: “Given the very high volume of responses to all five organised responses, we have demonstrated their impact on the final consultation results in our analysis and reporting by showing numbers with and without organised responses.” 

City Hall Tories say that boilerplate responses from groups like Fair Fuel UK and Living Streets – 90% of which opposed the expansion – were “secretly and improperly excluded from the final ULEZ consultation results after an intervention by the Mayor’s senior advisers.” However, they also note that the intervention only lowered the overall level of opposition in the final count by three percentage points (from 62% to 59%). TfL included figures showing support for/against ULEZ expansion with or without organised campaign responses in its consultation report.

Now FairFuel UK has faced accusations of conducting a flawed survey. The press release hitting out at Sadiq Khan claimed the campaign group had conducted the “largest survey of drivers” in a “poll” that asked: “How do low-traffic zones, emission charges etc affect your driving intentions?”. 

It alleged that “1 in 5 drivers will not drive into London anymore” if the £12.50 a day ULEZ charge on the most polluting vehicles is expanded. And it claimed that “31% of sole traders (plumbers, electricians etc) will not drive into London anymore,” while “1 in 4 visitors/tourists will not drive into London.” 

FairFuel is an opponent, generally, of any scheme that charges motorists and ULEZ is driving their anger now.”

Oliver Lord, Clean Cities Campaign

And the press release claimed that “6 out of 10 drivers in the survey describe Sadiq Khan as a cash-grabbing Mayor, with only 3% saying he is an environmental champion.” 

However, Chris Terry, a market researcher and polling expert, said the “poll” was based on what appeared to be a self-selecting sample of largely FairFuel UK supporters. “In no way could something like that be representative…I’m sure they’ll cite that they have a bigger sample than most opinion polls – but sample size is completely worthless if your sample isn’t representative of the population,” Terry told Byline Times.

Professor Sir John Curtice, the UK’s leading pollster, pointed Byline Times to the British Polling Council’s guidance which states: “Should some polls be avoided and ignored? Yes – any poll in which anyone can choose to take part. For example, sometimes websites put up a poll question and invite their readers to say what they think…

“In such a poll, nothing is known about the characteristics of those who have responded. They may well not be representative of voters in general – even if many thousands of people have answered.”

And despite criticisms of how TfL conducted its consultation, the text of Fair Fuel UK’s survey began with what pollsters describe as “leading” text, stating that councils are making it “harder to drive in and around their cities” and questioning what their “motives really are”. 

And it branded the clean air charging policies “restrictive” before respondents answered questions. 

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Pushback

Oliver Lord, who leads the Clean Cities Campaign which backs the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, told Byline Times: “FairFuel is an opponent, generally, of any scheme that charges motorists and ULEZ is driving their anger now. TfL’s report shows that 80% of the Fair Fuel responses to the ULEZ consultation came from outside London.”

Noting that the group receives funding from the road haulage and freight industries, he added: “There could be more constructive discussion on car dependency we’ve trapped people into, starting with asking why public transport fares are not frozen each time fuel duty is.”

A London Labour spokesperson said: “It’s clear that the Tories and their friends in the dirty fossil fuel lobby are willing to stop at nothing to try and block any measure that could clean up London’s toxic air. 

“4,000 Londoners are dying every year due to toxic air pollution and the growth of children’s lungs is being stunted. It’s shameful that the Tories and Fair Fuel UK are happy to accept that.”

Howard Cox denied being tied to the Conservatives, telling Byline Times: “At FairFuel UK we have no party-political links but are standing up for low-income families, small businesses, sound economics and common sense. 

“Within our hundreds of thousands of supportive drivers are a huge chunk of labour voters that also believe the whole alleged climate crisis religion is being used to destroy our freedom of transport choice. Every driver wants to breathe clean air but not through emotive political lies and unsupported edicts.”

He claimed the groups opposition to ULEZ is “simply based on high costs v low benefits and the regressive nature of charges.”

And he claimed that Sadiq Khan “deceitfully and consciously excluded 5000 supporters of FairFuelUK, and their legitimate responses to the ULEZ consultation because they objected to his uncorroborated expansion plans.” City Hall and TfL strongly deny the claims. 

And in a further attack on Sadiq Khan, Cox added: “London’s Mayor is incapable of anything else, but self-centred politics. With 1 in 3 sole traders and 1 in 4 visitors telling FairFuelUK they will never drive into the city ever again, Mayor Khan must cancel this vain scheme for good, so that London is not economically damaged any further.”

A spokesperson for the Road Haulage Association would not comment on its funding for FairFuel UK, but said: “We represent the interests of commercial vehicle operators whose job it is to move goods and people. They typically operate on paper-thin margins so they need to be protected from excessive taxation.”

Byline Times understands the RHA is currently in the process of cutting off its funding for FairFuel UK. The company would not comment on the reasons for this.  

Update: This piece originally said that around 5,000 FairFuel UK emails to Transport for London were excluded from TfL’s ULEZ consultation as they were sent from outside London. They were in fact excluded from the final headline for/against figure by TfL because they were boilerplate/copy-and-paste responses that TfL claims did not answer specific consultation questions. We’re happy to clarify this.


If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com.

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