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UK’s Gove warns against treating tackling climate change as ‘religious crusade’

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British housing minister Michael Gove warned on Sunday against making tackling climate change “a religious crusade”, days after the governing Conservatives narrowly won a local election by opposing charges for the most polluting vehicles.

Gove, who is expected to propose reforms to spur homebuilding on Monday, said he supported moves to encourage people to walk and cycle more, but that some car journeys were vital and low-traffic neighbourhoods were a “crude” tool.

“I think – how can I put this – that is unwise,” he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, referring to some measures used to limit air pollution, including the opposition Labour party’s move to expand the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

“One of the dangers – I don’t think Labour are alive to this at all – is that if people think that you are treating the cause of the environment as a religious crusade, in which you’re dividing the world into goodies and baddies, then you alienate the support that you need for thoughtful environmentalism.”

The Conservatives unexpectedly won a by-election in former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, prompting Labour leader Keir Starmer to say there was “something very wrong” if the party’s policies ended up on every leaflet put out by the governing party.

The expansion of ULEZ is planned for next month by the capital’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan is expected to remain committed to implementing ULEZ but could look at new ideas for ways to mitigate its impact, a source close to City Hall said on condition of anonymity.

Labour won a once safe Conservative parliamentary seat in northern England on Friday, but the loss in Uxbridge has ignited debate over ULEZ, pitching the mayor and health campaigners against those who say they cannot tolerate another economic hit when living costs are soaring.

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