Clean Air Zones: What? Where? When?

The intense focus on air pollution and diesel emissions over the past few years has resulted in a steady stream of announcements involving Clean Air Zones, Low Emission Zones and other similar schemes. It can be hard to keep up, but these new policies will have a profound effect on motorists and fleets.

To help make sense of it all, here is a brief guide to the policies in place now and those that are on their way.

London’s T-Charge

As of 23 October 2017, old petrol and diesel vehicles face a new Emissions Surcharge (or ‘T-Charge’, short for ‘Toxicity Charge’) in central London’s Congestion Charge zone. All vehicles that do not meet Euro 4/IV emission standards must pay £10 a day in addition to the £12.50 Congestion Charge.

This comes on top of London’s existing Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which covers almost all of Greater London and has been in operation since 2008. Vans over 1,205kg that do not meet Euro 3 standards must pay a £100-a-day charge to drive in the zone, while pre-Euro IV lorries over 3,500kg must pay £200 a day.

London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone

The T-Charge is just an interim measure. It will only apply until London becomes an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – something that Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently confirmed will happen on 8 April 2019.

Initially, this will cover the same area as the Congestion Charge zone. Pre-Euro four petrol cars and vans and pre-Euro six diesels will have to pay an extra £12.50-a-day fee, while pre-Euro VI HGVs and buses will have to pay £100 a day.

Khan then plans to extend the ULEZ to the whole of Greater London for lorries and buses in 2020, and to the North and South Circular Roads for cars and vans in 2021. A consultation on these plans is due to begin before the end of the year.

Clean Air Zones in England

The Government’s Air Quality Plan – published in July – identified the 29 local authorities in England with the worst air pollution problems, and ordered them to draw up their own plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as quickly as possible. These local authorities have until the end of March 2018 to produce draft plans, and until the end of 2018 to publish their final versions.

While it is up to the individual councils to decide those plans, the Government’s preferred option is the introduction of Clean Air Zones: areas within which targeted, co-ordinated policies to tackle air pollution are imposed. Five cities, in particular, are expected to introduce Clean Air Zones by the end of 2019: Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton.

Some councils could charge the most polluting vehicles to drive within their Clean Air Zones, but the Air Quality Plan makes clear that such charges should only be introduced if air quality targets cannot be met through alternative means. It also stipulates that, like in London’s ULEZ, Euro 6/VI vehicles must be exempted from any charges.

Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone

Oxford is not among those 29 areas ordered to do more but is nonetheless drawing up a bold plan of its own. Last month, the City and County Councils began a public consultation on their proposal to turn the city centre into the world’s first Zero Emission Zone.

Starting in 2020, any non-zero-emission cars and vans will be banned from a few streets in central Oxford. Many more roads will be added in 2025 and 2030, and non-zero-emission HGVs will also be banned from the zone from 2035.

The councils project that NO2 concentrations on George Street (the city’s most polluted street) will fall by 74% by 2035 if the Zero Emission Zone is brought in.

Scotland and Wales

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing the first LEZ north of the border in Glasgow by the end of 2018, with more to follow over the next five years. A consultation on the design of Scottish LEZs is currently underway, but the Government is proposing that emissions standards be set at Euro 4 for petrol cars and vans, Euro 6 for diesel ones and Euro VI for all HGVs and buses – the same as for London’s ULEZ. Drivers of non-compliant vehicles entering an LEZ would face a penalty, which would likely be much higher than the fee in central London.

Meanwhile, in Wales, the Government is currently developing a Clean Air Framework, which will set the scene for Welsh Clean Air Zones. The Welsh Government expects to introduce one in Cardiff by the end of 2021, probably with similar restrictions and penalties as Scotland’s LEZs.

As you can see, plenty is going on across the country – and there will be plenty more detail to come as councils publish their plans next year.