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i morning briefing: Ulez – how combatting air pollution became political  

Welcome to Tuesday’s Early Edition from i.

Depending on which newspaper you read, which party you vote for or perhaps where you live, Ulez is either a war on motorists or a sensible measure to fight air pollution, climate change and save lives. The lead-up to the expansion of the ultra low emission zone, which is now in effect on London’s borders with Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey, has been one long – and at times nasty – fight. Only last month, former prime minister Boris Johnson described it as “bone-headed cruelty”. But it was him, as mayor, who introduced the measure itself in 2015. Back then he described is as an essential measure to help improve air quality in our city, protect the health of Londoners, and lengthen our lead as the greatest city on earth.” But the policy has become highly divisive, not just between the two major parties but within Labour too. A number of London councils attempted legal action to stop the move, and today six out of seven neighbouring councils refused to allow warning signs to be erected as they continue their fight against Sadiq Khan. What’s going on, and what is it like for those caught up in it? We’ll take a look after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Holidaymakers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed due to a “technical issue” that wiped out the UK’s air traffic control have described being left without communication or access to food and drink. Some passengers remained stuck on grounded planes or in crowded terminals on Monday night with airlines warning that check-in desks are temporarily closed.

Prices in shops have finally started to slow significantly in a sign that the inflation crisis may be coming to an endmeaning the Bank of England may be able to stop raising interest rates. The cost of retail items is continuing to increase, with food prices experiencing double-digit inflation, but the rate has dropped to its lowest level in nearly a year.

Nearly half of voters believe Brexit has made it harder for the UK to manage Channel asylum seekers, while just one in five think quitting the EU has made it easier, a poll says. Even those who backed Brexit believe quitting the EU has made managing asylum harder.

The Government’s flagship ’40 hospitals’ project is set to face further delays, piling further pressure on Rishi Sunak over missed Tory pledges. An industry insider told i the Government appears to have “abandoned hope” of making significant progress before the general election next year.

A study has found that playing lullabies helps to reduce the pain that newborns feel when having heel prick blood tests and other minor procedures, such as injections. Researchers played Mozart’s Lullaby to 54 babies for 20 minutes before, during and for five minutes after the heel prick, while 46 newborns had no music.

Three questions over Ulez:

Why has it become a political issue? The expansion of Ulez, which charges owners of older cars that don’t meet pollution standards £12.50 a day to drive within it, has courted controversy ever since it was first green lighted. Five Tory-led councils launched a legal challenge in July, which was defeated. Conservative MPs in those boroughs have also raised opposition to it. But it was the by-election in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge that caused a more political row. Labour, spooked by its very narrow loss in that constituency, blamed the policy for the outcome. In the wake of it, Sir Keir Starmer called on the London Mayor to “reflect” carefully on the rollout of Ulez and also told his party that it was fundamentally getting something wrong if “policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on every Tory leaflet”. Meanwhile Rishi Sunak has sought to drive a further wedge between the two parties by portraying himself as on the side of “motorists” in a slightly unusual tweet featuring Margaret Thatcher’s old Rover.

What do the people living in the zones make of it? “I have been saddened and horrified about how this debate has been politicised, and how the lead politicians in this country, one of the richest countries in the world, are pitting children’s health against trade people’s livelihoods,” says Rosa Appleby Alis who lives in Ealing, west London, with her five-year old son Max who has severe asthma. “We think it will improve our quality of life because my son won’t have to spend as much time in hospital, so my son will miss less school, and I will miss less work, and the hospital will be less overworked,” she said. But Barking business owner John Collings, said while it was “absolutely imperative” that air conditions are improved he didn’t like the way the way the policy has been handled and how it effects those on lower wages now. Read the full story here.

Do low emission zones work? According to Greenpeace, since the expansion of Ulez in 2021, harmful pollution levels have fallen – in some areas by almost 50 per cent. They say four million Londoners are now breathing cleaner air. A report published by the Mayor of London in February this year said the previous expansion of the Ulez had a “significant impact” in reducing the number of older, more polluting vehicles used in that area and cutting “harmful air pollution”. “Cumulatively since 2019, it is estimated the Ulez led to nitrogen oxides emissions from road traffic reducing by 13,500 tonnes across London over the four-year period compared with what they would have been without the Ulez, a reduction of 23 per cent,” the report stated. Chris Griffiths, professor of primary care at Queen Mary University of London, who has conducted research into air pollution and lung growth, told i in July that it was “indisputable” the policy was working. Independent studies have also found a drop in levels of nitrogen dioxide of between 6 per cent and 19 per cent. London is not the only city to have a clean air or low-emission zone. Clean-air zones are currently in place in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Tyneside. Glasgow has a low-emission zone and Oxford has a zero-emission zone. In Birmingham, the zone covers the city and stretches beyond, but without the same political fight that’s been seen in London. “It’s got really high compliance,” says Martin Price, co-chair of campaign group Better Streets for Birmingham. “There was a lot of opposition to it and that’s still slightly there but the stuff that was foretold, like the abandonment of the city centre because people can’t afford to go through it, that’s certainly not true.” Read the full story here.

London’s Ulez zone has been expanded (Photo: Yui Mok/PA)

 Around the world

A US federal judge has scheduled the trial for Donald Trump’s alleged effort to overturn the 2020 election for Monday 4 March, the day before the biggest voting day in the Republican race – Super Tuesday. Mr Trump has vowed to appeal the trial date ruling.

Regional leaders of Spain’s football association have told its president Luis Rubiales that he should resign with immediate effect amid a row over his conduct at the Women’s World Cup. Meanwhile, Mr Rubiales’s mother locked herself inside a church saying she was going on a hunger strike over the “inhumane and bloody hunt that they are doing with my son”.

France has banned school pupils from wearing abayas, the long dresses worn by some Muslim women. Despite Muslim leaders and hard-left parties denouncing the new measure, Olivier Véran, the government spokesman, said the abaya was an item of religious clothing. “I will even go further. It is a political attack, it’s a political sign,” he said.

Sir Elton John was admitted to hospital in France on Sunday as a “precautionary measure” after a fall at one of his homes. Representatives of the “Rocket Man” singer, 76, said that he had since been discharged and was “in good health” at home.

An Australian woman who was admitted to hospital after suffering abdominal pain, fever, dry cough as well as forgetfulness and depression surprised doctors when they discovered an 8cm roundworm normally found in pythons living in her brain. “You don’t want to be the first patient in the world with a roundworm found in pythons and we really take our hats off to her. She’s been wonderful,” said one of the doctors.

 Watch out for…

 a fresh fight over water pollution, amid reports that Michael Gove is to rewrite “nutrient neutrality” rules on housebuilding. 

 Thoughts for the day

I work on a migrant rescue ship – believe me when I say there is a simple solution to this crisis. People have the right to seek a safe and decent life, writes Nathan Akehurst.

Nadine Dorries’s claim that she was “getting on with the work” looks increasingly absurd. I worked in Parliament for years – I know how much of an MP’s office can run on autopilot if it has to, says Henry Hill.

I got so addicted to Vinted that I started selling clothes I love for next to nothing. It has changed my shopping habits for the better though, environmentally if not financially, reveals Jo Hoare.

‘Overall it has changed my shopping habits for the better though, environmentally if not financially’ (Photo: TravelCouples/Getty)

 Culture Break

Fyre Festival was the ultimate scam – of course people are coming back for more. Tickets are already selling out for round two of the disastrous event that went viral and landed its founder in jail. Who’s surprised, when we’re obsessed with both scammers and notoriety?

The luxury accommodation at Fyre Festival (Photo: Netflix)

 The Big Read

I spent the night at a new alcohol-free pub and saw how the UK is slowly embracing sobriety. Is Boozy Britain finally sobering up?

Kasia Delgado at Dry Dock, Weymouth, a new alcohol-free pub which has so far recieved a warm response from locals and holiday-makers (Photo: supplied)


Why £50m Brennan Johnson could be just what Tottenham need – even if fans are unconvinced. Nottingham Forest forward’s versatility and promise make him a good fit for Ange Postecoglou’s squad following Harry Kane’s exit, writes Oliver Young-Myles.

Johnson is a transfer target for Spurs before the transfer window shuts (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

People suffering joint pain and stiffness because of osteparthritis have been given new hope after a stem cell procedure helped an elderly gorilla to walk again. The researchers hope to trial the procedure on humans within a few years and to see it on the health service within a decade.

Liesel, a gorilla at Budapest Zoo, being given the transplanted cell treatment that helped her walk again (Photo: Stem CellX)

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