Sadiq Khan misled the public about the “benefits” of Ulez in radio and newspaper advertisements, a draft report leaked to The Telegraph reveals.
The advertising watchdog launched an investigation earlier this year after hundreds of people complained that the Mayor of London’s transport authority exaggerated the extent to which the ultra low emission zone would “clear up” the capital’s air quality.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is set to criticise Transport for London (TfL) for “misleading” claims about the expansion of the Ulez zone reducing levels of poisonous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) particles.
The ASA draft recommendations will come as a huge embarrassment for both TfL and Mr Khan, the organisation’s chairman, after £9 million was spent on a “marketing blitz” ahead of the controversial Ulez expansion.
The report, marked “classified”, was handed to The Telegraph after it was sent to interested parties before any potential amendments, ratification and publication.
One campaigner who complained to the watchdog about the adverts said the nine-page document shows Mr Khan “lied” about the impact Ulez would have on pollution.
The ASA findings prompted the watchdog to warn transport bosses to be more accurate with publicity campaigns.
The authors conclude: “We told Transport for London to ensure that the basis of all environmental claims was made clear and reminded them to ensure that appropriate evidence was held to support all objective claims.”
A total of 578 people contacted the ASA to “challenge” TfL to prove its adverts’ claims, which were broadcast and published between January and June this year.
The advertising watchdog’s recommendations state that two complaints about two radio adverts and one in a newspaper are to be upheld.
These adverts claimed that Ulez had “seen almost a halving of levels of nitrogen dioxide”; “most air pollution related deaths actually occur in outer London”; and Ulez had made a significant difference by helping to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half in central London.
Two adverts based on ‘estimates or modelled scenarios’
Following the ASA’s investigation, it found two adverts were “misleading” because they “did not clarify” claims NO2 levels had “reduced by nearly half” as a result of Ulez, and were based on “estimates or modelled scenarios” and not “actual figures”.
The investigators wrote: “In the absence of qualifying information, consumers were likely to understand that the claims were based on actual figures, not estimates or modelled scenarios, and that NO2 concentrations had been seen to reduce by almost a half since the central London Ulez was implemented.
“Although evidence gathered from actual data indicated that there had been a reduction in NO2 levels since the implementation of the Ulez, it did not show that actual NO2 levels had reduced by almost half.
“Because the ads did not clarify that the claims were based on modelled scenarios, and further that actual data collected had not demonstrated a NO2 reduction to the extent claimed, we concluded that the ads were likely to mislead.”
The second complaint set to be upheld found an advertisement that claimed deaths from pollution were higher in outer London failed to make clear that the area had already been covered by Ulez.
“We considered … listeners would likely understand the term ‘Outer London’ as referring to areas that had not already been covered by the Ulez,” the investigators wrote.
“We therefore considered listeners would understand the claim ‘most air pollution related deaths actually occur in Outer London areas’… to refer to the proportion of air pollution-related deaths in the areas that had previously not been covered by the Ulez.”
The ASA investigators say “evidence” it had received from TfL indicates “the mortality burden” in outer London was greater than in inner London, but the advert did not clarify that the claim was again “based on modelled estimates, using historical scenarios”.
The report adds: “TfL said no single official definition of ‘Inner London’ and ‘Outer London’ areas existed.”
Three other complaints about two other adverts were not upheld in the draft report.
The anti-Ulez campaigner who leaked the document said: “This report shows that once again Sadiq Khan, as the chair of TfL, knowingly lied about the claims made in his adverts about the effectiveness and impact of the Ulez scheme, before it even went live.”
‘We are confident the advertisement is accurate’
A TfL spokesman said the transport body was “strongly challenging” the draft recommendations.
“The ASA is not challenging the science... the science is absolutely clear about the significant harm of air pollution on people’s health and that estimated premature deaths from air pollution are higher in outer London than in inner London. We are confident that the advertisement is accurate,” he said.
“Scientific analysis based on modelled scenarios and estimates is standard practice in the scientific community. We are meeting with the ASA to take them through the data and explain in detail how it is used.
“It remains the case that the expansion of the ultra low emission zone is playing a crucial role in the reduction of air pollution - improving air quality for everyone in London and reducing the harms to health associated with vehicle emissions.”
The ASA refused to comment on the leaked document. However, a source stressed that the final ruling had not yet been issued and so the findings could change. It is understood the ruling could be issued officially in the next few weeks.