Clean air zones around the UK

The Birmingham Clean Air Zone is now active, with similar proposals set for Oxford and other big cities in the near future


The idea of clean-air zones – limiting vehicular access to certain areas of big cities – is nothing new. These low-emission zones aim to improve air quality and conditions for those who live and work in urban areas, by restricting traffic that causes pollution.

This usually takes the form of charging a fee for petrol or diesel vehicles, although in the UK some councils have considered outright vehicle bans as well. London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) has been operating for a couple of years now, and has been considered successful enough that the area it covers will expand in October 2021. 

Birmingham is the latest city to enforce such a scheme, charging drivers of older, more polluting petrol and diesel cars a daily fee to enter parts of the city. You can read more about the Birmingham Clean Air Zone, as well as similar schemes, below.

Birmingham Clean Air Zone

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone came into force on 1 June 2021, with a similar set of parameters to London’s ULEZ. It means that drivers of pre-Euro 4 petrol and pre-Euro 6 diesel cars are subject to an £8 daily charge if they wish to enter the inner confines of the city. However, payments have been suspended for the first two week of the scheme (until 14 June) to allow drivers time to get used to the system and to consider the many applications for exemptions the council has received.

The charge area sits within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road and will be enforced using automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras. It's active every day, including weekends and bank holidays, although vans, vehicles in a disability tax class and buses that transport schoolchildren or provide community services are exempt. All fully electric cars are also exempt from the charge.

Oxford ZEZ

Drivers of cars with combustion engines will be charged to drive on certain streets in Oxford from August 2021, pending final sign-off from council members on the new scheme.

A Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) will be set up in the city centre if approved, initially as a ‘ZEZ Pilot’ covering a handful of streets in central Oxford and then expanding to much of the city in 2022. This expansion will be subject to public consultation.

Plans are for the zone to run from 7am to 7pm every day, with drivers entering the zone being charged a fee related to the emissions of their vehicle. The charge will be £2 a day for hybrids that emit less than 75g/km of CO2, £4 for Euro 4-approved petrol or Euro 6-approved diesel vehicles, and £10 for non-Euro 4 petrol and non-Euro 6 diesel vehicles.

Those prices will rise to £4, £8 and £20 respectively in 2025, however, and there'll be no charge for electric cars. There are also exemptions for certain workers such as those in health and care, those in financial hardship and Blue Badge holders. Residents can get a 90% discount, and taxis get half off.

Bath Clean Air Zone

Bath's Clean Air Zone (CAZ) went live on 15 March 2021. It also uses rules similar to the London ULEZ, but at the moment, private cars aren’t included. Vehicles such as taxis and vans are charged £9 per day, while buses and lorries pay £100 if they don’t comply with Euro 4 (petrol) or Euro 6 (diesel) emissions regulations. Bath and North East Somerset Council had said that it'll offer financial support to some firms that need to upgrade their vehicles to stay compliant.

Bristol diesel ban

Bristol had considered banning diesel cars completely from certain streets in the city centre, but this initiative was scrapped. The plans were to prevent all diesel cars from entering selected streets between 7am and 3pm, while commercial diesel vehicles would have had to pay a fee. After the plans were scrapped, the city’s mayor has said that new clean-air plans are being drawn up that don’t involve individuals or businesses paying a fee.

Other clean air zones

Leeds had plans for a clean-air zone, but as of October 2020, councillors approved a recommendation to discontinue these plans following the outcome of a joint review with central government. This was due to the uptake of lower-emission, compliant vehicles; most vehicles that would have been charged under the plans had already been replaced by cleaner models in advance of the zone’s introduction. 

Aberdeen has proposed plans to ban non-Euro 4 petrol and non-Euro 6 diesel cars from the city altogether from later in 2021 and Brighton is looking into banning cars completely by 2023 in the city centre, although it will take into consideration the needs of traders and the disabled with this strict measure. Dundee is also looking into a total ban of certain cars and York council says it wants to prevent non-essential private car use in the city.

Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, some Kent towns, Portsmouth, Reading, Sheffield and Slough are all considering some form of clean-air zone, although few details are available at the moment. Derby has proposed to charge eligible cars and vans to enter the city centre, or potentially within its outer ring road. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone could be expanded to include cars, while Manchester and Newcastle are looking at charging business vehicles but not private cars.

London has two schemes in place: the £15 daily Congestion Charge for all vehicles emitting more than 75g/km of CO2 and the £12.50 ULEZ charge for non-Euro 4 petrol and non-Euro 6 diesel cars. The latter will be expanded all the way to the North and South Circular roads on 26 October 2021. At the same time, Congestion Charge exemption for all except fully zero-emissions vehicles will end.

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