ULEZ: The ‘death knell’ for small London businesses?

London ULEZ small businesses

Pimlico Plumbers CEO, Charlie Mullins, has lamented the introduction of London’s ULEZ ultra low emission zone, claiming it could be the death knell for small businesses based in the capital that can’t afford to upgrade their fleets.

Pimlico is the UK’s largest independent plumbing firm, with a fleet of over 250 vans running in the capital. Of these, 150 currently fall foul of the ULEZ standards.

“If I kept using my vans in central London, where we are based, it would cost me £908,000 annually in penalties – which is absurd,” says Mullins. 

Small businesses should be given time to upgrade

Pimlico Plumbers van

Mullins argues that non-compliant vehicles should be allowed to work through to the end of their useful life without the businesses getting penalised.

“Once older non-compliant vehicles end their useful life, all new ones will be fitted with Euro VI engines in any case. So, I don’t see why we’re rushing into this, when it’s just going to hit the backbone of the UK economy – businesses.

“It’s as if Khan [London Mayor Sadiq Khan] is prepared to fast track the London economy down the drain, in order to claim some non-existent green award.”

The Freight Transport Association has also criticised the lack of support for businesses. It claims the zone’s introduction will cause the fleet replacement cycle to be brought forward prematurely. This will be costly for businesses.

The market for Euro 6 vans is still relatively young. Most are under three years old at the moment, locking out many smaller businesses without the budget to invest.

Pro-business doesn’t mean anti-environment

Mullins does agree that London’s air quality is an issue that needs to be tackled. However, he believes a more pragmatic approach should have been taken.

“Combine Khan’s clean air clamour with a good helping of Brexit uncertainty, and there’s no two ways about it – we’re on the road to a recession, albeit an environmentally friendly one.”

Existing help for small businesses

London ULEZ small businesses

Not all small businesses have been ignored. There is a scheme for what the government calls ‘micro-businesses’. These are businesses with fewer than 10 staff. There are three options for qualifying firms:

  • £3,500 in scrappage towards the acquisition of a Euro 6 replacement vehicle
  • £6,000 for scrappage as well as a contribution to the running costs of an electric vehicle
  • £3,500 grant for the scrappage of a non-compliant vehicle for those who regularly enter the ULEZ

Needless to say, these measures apply to a very specific and limited demographic of businesses…

At present, any non-compliant heavier vehicle weighing between 3.5 tonnes, and buses and coaches weight over 5 tonnes, will incur a charge of £100 per day if they pass into the ultra-low emission zone.

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