Clean Air Zones in the UK

  • What is a Clean Air Zone?
  • What are the LEZ and ULEZ?
  • What vehicles are exempt from ULEZ charges?
  • Where are the proposed Clean Air Zones?
  • Are Clean Air Zones effective?
  • What can I do to avoid CAZ charges?

What is a Clean Air Zone?

Simply, a Clean Air Zone, also referred to as CAZ, is an area where action is being taken to improve air quality. There is no specific size restriction on the zone, so it can be a single road, postcode, stretch of road or a town.

Clean Air Zones are set up with the intention of cutting pollution and encouraging drivers to choose vehicles that produce less in the way of polluting fumes or use alternative methods of transportation, such as bicycles or public transport.

Vehicles entering the specified zones can be charged or fined in an effort to deter them from driving in these areas. In fact, drivers of the vehicles which pollute the most can be charged up to £100 per day to drive in areas where it’s believed the air is most toxic. These areas are usually town and city centres where traffic is heavier.

cars in a traffic jam

As well as creating Clean Air Zones that are specific to locations, they can be applied to vehicle types, so they could be focused on the use of just private cars in a specific location or maybe lorries or vans. They can also be across all vehicle types.

In 2015 the UK Supreme Court ordered MPs to take action to cut air pollution after a case was brought before them by an environmental law organisation in which they insisted not enough had been done to reduce the production of nitrogen dioxide – a gas produced by diesel vehicles that causes lung function problems.

What are the Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone?

London set up its first Low Emission Zone, also referred to as LEZ, in 2008, 5 years after the introduction of the Congestion Charge. The Low Emission Zone covers most of Greater London and was set up to encourage drivers of diesel vehicles to make them cleaner and less polluting. Unlike the Congestion Charge which is only active during the busiest parts of the working day and only on certain days of the week, the Low Emission Zone is one that is active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The daily charge is expensive for vehicles that aren’t exempt from the charges in an effort to encourage drivers to move away from their less environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Clean Air Zone signage from London

The charge is determined by vehicle weight and though these charges are set to change from 26th October 2020, at present they are:

  • £100 per day for vans or specialist diesel vehicles (over 1.205 tonnes unladen weight, up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight)
  • £100 per day for minibuses weighing up to 5 tonnes
  • £200 per day for HGVs, lorries, vans and specialist heavy vehicles weighing over 3 tonnes
  • £200 per day for buses/minibuses and coaches weighing over 5 tonnes

At the same time as announcing that they were going to be setting up a CAZ in the Greater London area, five further cities were asked to establish a Clean Air Zone by the end of 2020. The cities that the government highlighted were Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby.

Further to this (and the loss of two more court cases brought against them by ClientEarth), the government asked 28 councils across the country to draw up plans to tackle the issue of nitrogen dioxide levels in built-up areas across their regions. 33 councils were also asked to carry out feasibility studies to determine whether it was necessary for them to set up Clean Air Zones to reduce emissions in a quick and effective manner.

In April 2019 an Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced in London. Though plans have been announced to expand the area that is covered by the London ULEZ, currently it only affects drivers who are heading to locations in City or Westminster, the same areas that are covered by the Congestion Charge. Charges for all vehicles that don’t meet ULEZ requirements are active every day of the year (except 25th December).

The charges for vehicles that don’t meet exemption requirements, according to the Transport for London website are as follows:

  • £12.50 per day for most vehicle types – this includes cars, motorcycles and vans (up to and including 3.5 tonnes in weight)
  • £100 per day for heavier vehicles (including lorries weighing over 3.5 tonnes)
  • £100 per day for buses/coaches weighing over 5 tonnes

The idea behind setting up the ULEZ in London was not to collect additional fees from owners of vehicles that don’t meet the emissions standards, but rather to encourage people to consider using a vehicle that meets them so they don’t have to pay a daily charge in order to use the area.

What vehicles are exempt from ULEZ charges?

All electric cars charging in a car park

At present, the vehicles that are exempt from paying to drive in the Ultra Low Emission Zone include all-electric vehicles and vehicles that meet the following European Standards:

  • Euro 3
    Also referred to as EC2000 and introduced in January 2000. This is the standard for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category). For petrol vehicles, the NOx (Nitrogen Dioxide) levels are 0.15 and for diesel vehicles, it’s 0.50g/km.
  • Euro 4 (NOx)
    Also referred to as EC2005 and introduced in January 2005, Euro 4 is the standard that petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles have to meet. The NOx levels for petrol vehicles is 0.08.
  • Euro 6
    Euro 6, was first introduced in September 2014 and imposes stricter reductions in NOx emissions from diesel engines, including cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles. The NOx emission limit for Euro 6 vehicles is 0.08g/km and the PM (particulate matter) is 0.0005g/km.
  • Euro VI
    Lorries, buses*, coaches* and other specialist heavy vehicles need to meet the minimum Euro 6 (VI) standards. Diesel vehicles have a NOx emission limit of 0.08g/km and PM (particulate matter) is 0.0005g/km. Petrol vehicles have a NOx limit of 0.06g/km and PM limit of 0.0005g/km.

*That have more than 8 passenger seats and over 5 tonnes gross vehicle weight

Where are the proposed Clean Air Zones?

There are a number of locations across the UK where Clean Air Zones have been proposed – with more to come in an effort to reduce the amount of polluting vehicles on UK roads.

Leeds

The original plan was to introduce the CAZ in Leeds from January 6, 2020. However, the launch has been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. Leeds City Council acknowledges that unless action is taken very soon they will fail the legal limits for air pollution they have been set for 2020. They are also proposing support packages for businesses that are based within, or function inside, the Clean Air Zone so that the fees aren’t detrimental to their business. The plan is that taxis, buses, coaches and HGVs to be charged per day for driving in the Clean Air Zone, while private cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds will be exempt.

Birmingham

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone has been approved as a charging zone, it will be in operation 24 hours a day every day of the year and was due to be launched on 1 July 2020. This date has now been postponed due to issues with a Government provided vehicle checking system. Unlike Leeds, there is no exclusion for private vehicles unless they are exempt from the charges completely. The CAZ will cover all the roads within the A4540 Millway Ring Road, though it won’t cover the Middleway itself.

Bath

In 2018, Bath City Council conducted their first consultation into the set up of a Clean Air Zone. Since that point, the zone proposal has seen some changes, however, liable drivers will be charged from 4 November 2020. Bath’s CAZ is what is referred to as a class C Clean Air Zone, which means that private vehicles and motorcycles will be exempt from charges no matter whether they meet low emission requirements. The CAZ boundaries have changed several times, including much of the centre of the city and is made up of 11 separate areas.

Sheffield

Sheffield is a little behind the Clean Air Zones we have already mentioned. In August 2019 the city council began its consultation and received 12,000 responses. The intention of the council in setting up their CAZ is to reduce the number of polluting vehicles that drive in the city centre and charge those that continue to do so. However, the plans at present are to open the zone in 2021. Like the zones in Bath and Leeds, this will be a class C Clean Air Zone where private vehicles and motorcycles will be exempt from charges.

Greater Manchester

Like Sheffield, Greater Manchester is still in the planning and proposal stages of their Clean Air Zone. The city is also looking to introduce the zone in two phases, one in 2021 and the second in 2023. The Clean Air Zone is set to cover the entirety of Greater Manchester and will be a class C Clean Air Zone. Private cars, motorcycles and mopeds will be exempt from charges, however, any other vehicle that does not meet the exemption criteria (as detailed in the section ‘What vehicles are exempt from ULEZ charges’.

Oxford

As with many locations in the country, Oxford City Council was asked to look at ways to reduce Nitrogen Dioxide levels in the area. The council has come up with two separate proposals to reduce emissions. An informal consultation has been launched. Oxford City Council, working with Oxfordshire County Council, are looking to implement the first UK Zero Emission Zone, also referred to as a ZEZ at the end of 2020. The council plans are for the Red Zone (or Zero Emission Zone) in the centre of the city to be active between 7 am and 7 pm every day, with a daily charge of £10 for any vehicle that isn’t compliant. They are also looking to introduce discounts for blue badge holders and residents and temporary exemptions to give businesses in the area time to adapt. The local bus companies and licensed cab companies which drive in the Zero Emission Zone are already looking at their timelines to upgrade to zero-emission fleets and when the scheme is launched will not be subject to any charges.

Glasgow

Glasgow’s Clean Air Zone/Low Emission Zone came into force at the very end of 2018, though this was only the first phase of their two-phase plan. The initial plan only applies to local service buses, however, come 31 December 2022, all other vehicles will be subject to charges in the city’s Low Emission Zone restrictions and charges.

Southampton

In January 2019, Southampton City Council announced their plans to introduce a non-charging Clean Air Zone. Initially, the plans were to enforce a charging zone where any non-compliant vehicles were charged to enter areas of the city. The council later determined that they could meet the Government’s requirements for clean air without charging high polluting vehicles to drive into the city. As well as setting up a Clean Air Zone, Southampton City Council also has a cashback incentive scheme for existing licensed taxis. This scheme currently offers a grant valued between £1,500 and £3,000 depending on the sort of vehicle you upgrade to, though in May 2020 the amount being offered will reduce by 50%. The council also offers an incentive to those who drive 100% electric vehicles in the city, in the form of a 90% reduction in the price of a season ticket for city parking.

York

York announced its Clean Air Zone as part of its Air Quality Action Plan at the beginning of 2019. The city centre zone is not one where vehicles are charged and is also currently focused on reducing emissions from local bus services. They have invested a considerable amount in helping local bus companies replace any buses that don’t meet current EU emissions regulations.

Brighton

Brighton was one of the first councils in the country outside London to set up a Low Emission Zone when it announced that buses that operated in and across the city had five years from 1 January 2015 to become 100% compliant with EU regulations. Brighton and Hove City Council also announced that it will be introducing more electric charging points across the city in an attempt to encourage more people to drive all-electric vehicles, though the ultimate plan is to become a car-free city by 2023.

More cities across the country have been asked to consider Clean Air Zones in an effort to reduce air pollution levels. These include Bristol, Derby, Cambridge, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Broxbourne, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Bolsover and Bradford. There is no doubt that this list will grow longer as we get closer to the EU set Carbon Neutral deadline of 2050, a deadline that could change.

Are Clean Air Zones effective?

The Clean Air Zone scheme is not without its detractors, with many saying that they can’t see how it will work. There has been concern from businesses who will bear the brunt of the costs to change, including haulage firms and taxi companies that will be required to update their fleets in order to meet the regulations that have been set.

Organisations such as the Freight Transport Association has said that more public funds should be allocated to firms who will have to pay out to convert their lorries. The government, meanwhile, has allocated over £3billion towards tackling the issue of NO2, and this includes over £220million that is being put towards helping individuals and businesses that are affected by the changes their local councils are proposing.

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What can I do to avoid Clean Air Zone charges?

If you regularly drive into any of the cities or towns mentioned above, then it’s logical you will be considering ways to reduce the costs you’ll incur.

If you’re currently considering a new vehicle, then have you considered leasing, hiring or purchasing a brand-new 100% electric vehicle such as the very city-friendly Renault Zoe or the soon-to-be released stylish Mini E. Or perhaps you want something for a larger family with great mileage like the Audi e-Tron, award-winning Jaguar i-Pace or one of the popular cars in the Tesla range.

Whatever vehicle you’re looking for, manufacturers are frequently updating their electric and hybrid ranges, increasing the number that they produce and improving the sort of mileage range that they can achieve.

If you’re searching for your next vehicle and need help, please get in touch with one of our vehicle specialists. We have access to multiple funders and every vehicle manufacturer so we will be able to find you the ideal vehicle.

Rachel Richardson
Latest posts by Rachel Richardson (see all)
  • 14th February 2020

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