Clean air zones around the UK

Clean air zones in Oxford, Birmingham and Bath are all coming – and other UK cities are looking to follow suit

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Clean air zones are being proposed in cities around the world. These low-emission zones aim to improve air quality and conditions for those who live and work in the biggest towns and cities 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 bans as well. This fee has been shown to work as part of London’s Congestion Charge, which helped reduce not only emissions in the centre of the capital, but also traffic jams. Read on to find out more about clean air zones in a city near you.

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, and drivers entering the zone will be 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 and 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.

Birmingham Clean Air Zone

Birmingham's Clean Air Zone is set to start on 1 June 2021, and it uses similar rules to the London ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone). This means that pre-Euro 4 petrol or pre-Euro 6 diesel cars will be subject to a fee of £8 per day for driving within the limits of the A4540 Middleway Ring Road. Enforcement is done using ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras and you can pay the fee online.

It runs every day, including weekends and bank holidays, although vans, vehicles in a disability tax class and buses that transport school children or provide community services will be exempt.

Bath Clean Air Zone

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

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 select streets between 7am and 3pm, and commercial 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 this year, and Brighton is looking into banning cars completely by 2023 in the city centre, though 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, though few details are available at the moment. Derby has proposed plans to charge eligible cars and vans to enter the city centre, or potentially within the outer ring road. Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone could be expanded to include cars, and Manchester and Newcastle are looking at charging business vehicles but not private cars.

London has two schemes in place: the £12.50 daily Congestion Charge and the £11.50 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.

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