Road transport is the single biggest producer of nitrogen dioxide annually, with toxic air said to be killing 4,000 Londoners prematurely per year, while thousands more are at risk of developing illnesses such as cancer, asthma and lung disease.

London may carry the moniker of ‘The Big Smoke’ but the city’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) has done much to address this image since opening in April 2019.

The scheme targets the city’s worst polluting vehicles through a daily charge and has had a transformational impact, reducing emissions by 26%.

Currently, the zone covers all areas within the North and South Circular roads. But with Mayor Sadiq Khan planning to expand the scheme to encompass all London boroughs, many more motorists will be pausing to consider how this will affect them.

Of course, if the ULEZ expansion does go ahead, the impact on small businesses and tradespeople will be immense and it’s a great cause for concern among the timber and builders’ merchants’ fraternity.

The Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) has written to the Mayor of London expressing its concern that Greater London may become a no-go area for many SME builders and other trades following the introduction of the expanded ULEZ zone in August.

It is set to be expanded on August 29, imposing a £12.50 daily charge on noncompliant vehicles across all London boroughs. This means that anyone using a diesel van registered before September 2016 or petrol van registered before January 2006 will be charged to travel almost anywhere within the M25.

“This is likely to impact SME tradespeople operating within the M25 as a significant proportion rely on non-compliant vehicles for their work,” said John Newcomb, BMF CEO. “We can foresee a reluctance on their part to accept new work within the Greater London boundary.

“This will have a knock-on effect for end customers, who will find it more difficult and costly to get work done. It will also affect sales turnover at merchant outlets within the new boundary, which will have consequences on the amounts of stock held and on their staffing levels.

“We have, therefore, written to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, calling for this policy to be reconsidered.”

The BMF’s action is endorsed by its members.

Lords Builders Merchants has 13 branches employing 300 staff operating across Greater London. “We believe the introduction of the ULEZ extension will hurt the very people it is designed to assist,” said Shanker Patel, CEO. “Transport for London should look to delay the introduction until such time as the current high level of inflation reduces, so those affected can afford to change their vehicles.”

“The proposed ULEZ expansion will hurt the residents, workers and tradespeople of London alike, at a time when many are already experiencing great financial hardship with the current cost of living crisis in the UK,” agreed Howard Luft, Selco CEO.

“Although we fully appreciate the need to drive the impact of emissions down across the whole country, we are asking for more time for residents, tradespersons and workers to be able to adapt,” added Frank Elkins, chief operating officer at Travis Perkins.

In his letter to Sadiq Khan, Mr Newcomb said “The BMF is concerned that your officials have no real understanding of commercial vehicle fleets – and have not allowed sufficient time for BMF members and their trade customers to make operational changes before the new ULEZ start date. SMEs face disproportionate costs to comply with the ULEZ – and merchants fear for the survival of some of their trade customers.

“The BMF agrees with other organisations that believe the proposals are punitive and misguided. In our consultation responses, we have consistently said you should reconsider and emphasised (a) the need for a generous commercial vehicle scrappage scheme and (b) a later start date to allow SMEs to prepare. The BMF believes it is wholly unrealistic of you to proceed to expand the ULEZ at a time when hard-pressed firms and families are struggling in the cost of living crisis.

“For local builders and property repair firms, additional ULEZ charges will have a hugely significant impact. The overwhelming majority are SMEs that already face inflationary price rises, squeezed margins and contractual pressures. The BMF expects to see these consequences:

  • the trade having to go back to their customers (often households) leading to awkward conversations about renegotiating project costs or submitting supplementary invoices;
  • householders delaying or cancelling works because of higher input prices or cost uncertainty;
  • reluctance by SMEs to price up jobs as ULEZ costs affect themselves and their end-customers.”

The letter goes on to cite issues with the proposed vehicle scrappage scheme and says the BMF regards it as essential that central and/or local government provide targeted financial support for certain classes of road user.

“This means financial assistance or tax changes to help businesses to replace old lorries, trucks and vans with cleaner, greener models.

“Businesses we represent have no choice but to use diesel vehicles – especially HGVs. In relation to vans, this means vans used by BMF members and their trade customers. That is why we have long favoured a targeted scrappage scheme for commercial vehicles.

“We believe genuine questions remain unanswered on the way you are implementing the ULEZ expansion,” the letter continues. “The BMF urges you to urgently reconsider. Given the strength of feeling and high level of concern expressed by individual companies (especially SMEs), trade associations and employers’ federations, and trade unions (like the GMB), the BMF believes it is wiser for you to pause and take stock of the situation.”


Jonathan Beadle, commercial manager at van leasing company Van Ninja outlines how to check if vehicles are compliant and what the charges will be

Motorists can check on the TFL website whether their vehicle meets emissions by keying in their vehicle number plate.

In order to avoid paying charges, drivers need to meet the required Euro emissions standards for their vehicle and emission type. These are as follows:

  • Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
  • Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
  • Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles.

Those working with heavier commercial transport or van leasing should also check the weight of their vehicles.

Lorries, vans and specialist heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes alongside buses, minibuses and coaches over 5 tonnes don’t need to pay the charge.

Currently the charge is £12.50 per day for non-compliant cars, motorcycles, vans and specialist vehicles (up to 3.5 tonnes) and minibuses (up to 5 tonnes).

If you drive within the zone, you’ll have to pay by midnight on the third day following a journey. Failure to pay will incur a penalty charge notice. Drivers can pay directly on the TFL website: (

You can also elect to pay via Auto Pay, which automatically bills you for any congestion charges or ULEZ charges you may owe. There are no registration or renewal fees and drivers can set up via the TFL website: (

Finally, drivers can also opt to set up payment via the TFL Pay to Drive in London app, which can also be used to pay penalties, save vehicle details and check if a postcode is in a ULEZ charging zone.

Naturally, amid the current cost-of-living concerns, pennyprudent drivers will be wary of accruing hefty charges once these new measures are in play.

Over a typical five-day working week, drivers could rack up £62.50 in charges, which amounts to £3,250 over the course of year.