By Howard Cox, founder of FairFuelUK and London mayoral candidate for Reform UK
This week’s pronouncement by Rishi Sunak in moving the sales ban of new diesel and petrol cars from 2030 to 2035 is a welcome reprise from the years of relentless political pressure on the motorist.
It is a rare victory. For nearly 14 years I have campaigned successfully to prevent any increase in Fuel Duty. But whilst the government has kept this levy frozen since 2010, they have presided over a plethora of other punitive, anti-driver policies. Even on fuel duty, the UK still has one of the highest levies in Europe.
Today is World Car Free Day, when all around the world, towns and cities allow people to experience streets free of motor traffic. This initiative is driven by Living Streets, an organisation that receives the bulk of its funding from taxpayers through government contracts and grants. And they think big. “Who says we only get one day a year to imagine car-free streets”, their website says. They see it as a day to dream, but it’s very much the opposite. A car-free world would be a nightmare.
The car has been the most liberating influence on our self-determination to freely travel anywhere in the last 100 years. Everyone has benefitted from the motor vehicle. Supermarket shelves would be empty without it, emergency care would be impossible and our ability to move around would be determined by the good fortune of accessible public transport options or otherwise our willingness to walk or cycle.
Yet in the last 30 years, unelected well-financed groups have deliberately set out to make motor vehicles the angels of darkness. As a result, successive elected politicians have seemingly made it their mission to punish drivers. Motorists are now faced with congestion costs, low emission charges, road restrictions under the guise of low traffic zones, road delays due to vast cycle lanes eating into existing roads, pinch points, speed bumps, 20mph zones, potholes, targeted higher parking fees, a new road user hierarchy of blame in the Highway Code and so much more undemocratic unnecessary draconian punishments on a once previously pleasurable pastime.
Something really insidious is happening in our cities, that is restricting our freedom of mobility and choice of transport. And it's getting worse by the day. City administrations across the UK are now vigorously embracing the approach of seeing drivers as a revenue stream - an opportune, lucrative, and easy source of growing plunder to fill local authority coffers and sate their growing debts.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is surely the worst culprit in terms of treating motorists like cash cows. Since the end of August, every borough within the M25 is now an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) area; which means the owners of older diesel and petrol cars now pay £12.50 every time they enter the zone. We already know that under the previous zone, ULEZ was bringing in almost £100 million to City Hall’s coffers. That’s right - it’s a pure cash grab, nothing less, nothing more!
More often than not these schemes are brought in against the wishes of residents, motorists or not, who recognise the enormous value that motor vehicles add to their lives. In the case of ULEZ, Mayor Khan has been accused of manipulating the public consultation to suit his own agenda. According to London Assembly's Conservative members, Mayor Khan excluded the views of 5,000 of my FairFuelUK campaign supporters who took part in his consultation about the ULEZ expansion. Their responses were deliberately ignored simply because they objected to his unproven expansion plans. Call that democracy? This is the contempt that drivers across the UK are up against.
After years of piecemeal initiatives and implementations seemingly designed to make the lives of drivers more difficult, it looks increasingly like the real aim is to ban cars entirely. With little if any consultation, a wave of national and local political schemes to make owning and using a car more expensive and complicated are coming thick and fast right across the UK. Canterbury and Oxford among others are now subject to a new set of anti-car restrictions - the 15-minute zone. Wales is bringing in a default 20mph speed limit.
This perennial demonisation and exploitation of drivers must be reversed. National and local political administrations should recognise that the motorist is the commercial and social heartbeat of any economy. Some may dream of car-free streets, but they should be reminded of the old adage - “be careful what you wish for.”