Eco driving: What is a Clean Air Zone and who will be affected?

In 2017, the city of Oxford announced that it would become the first zero emissions zone in the world by implementing a ban on all diesel and petrol vehicles within city centre limits by the year 2020. In addition, the move has been met with a positive reception from other UK cities such as Leeds, Southampton, Birmingham and Derby, which will follow the move by introducing their own Clean Air Zones over the next few years.

Together with Motorparks Grange, retailers of used cars and prestige vehicles such as Jaguar, we’ve assembled this helpful drivers guide to Clean Air Zones, exploring what the proposed changes will involve and which drivers will be affected by them.

What is a Clean Air Zone?

The UK government defines a Clean Air Zone as an area in which targeted action is taken in order to protect the environment and improve air quality. The government stipulates that this will result in improved economic growth and health benefits for the population. The proposed plans involve access restrictions in certain city zones to encourage cleaner vehicles on UK roads and reduce pollution levels. Due to their high pollution outputs, busses, HGV’s and taxis will be the first to be charged for entering the zones – however, the charges will not apply to private cars just yet. Vehicles which meet the definition of ultra-low emission (fully electric vehicles, for example) will not have to pay entry fees. Other vehicles will be separated into different classes and charges will apply depending on which class they are in.

Which drivers will be charged?

The charges will ultimately be decided by local councils and authorities and not all of the zones will have fixed fees. Penalties will not be compulsory for Clean Air Zones either, however, councils which do decide to implement charges will have the right to charge penalty fines if drivers do not comply with the zone charges. The city of Bath is currently assessing the impact of a clean air zone charge, with suggested charges for high emission cars ranging from £3 to £13 per day to drive within the zones.

Private car owners will not be affected to begin with, so those of us who drive large vehicles such as a Land Rover can relax for the time being. Although the charges are yet to be completely finalised, we now know that they will be issued depending on what class your vehicle falls under. The four classes are: A. B. C and D and have been selected according to vehicle type, emissions and euro standard. The government has released a report outlining the Clean Air Zone framework, so you can check which category your vehicle will be in.

Which cities will be included?

The cities included in the plans have been selected by the UK government according to which ones currently have the lowest air quality in the country – they hope to lower the nitrogen dioxide levels by a considerable amount, bringing them back in line with legal guidelines. Whilst Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby have been approved to host Clean Air Zones, several other cities across the UK are still awaiting approval, including Newcastle Upon Tyne, Manchester, Liverpool and Hull. The zones will likely only be in operation in city centres, and restrictions will involve entry fees, time of day restrictions and/or blanket vehicle bans.

It was recently reported by the Sunday Times that the plans could affect over 35 urban areas, in which all vehicle types (both private and publicly owned) could face being banned from city centres during peak times for traffic. In the most polluted cities, the charges (dubbed ‘toxin taxes’ by the media) could end up being as high as £20 a day. The government has also been keen to point out that they do not intend to punish drivers who purchased their diesel cars because of successive governments, as they don’t want drivers to feel as though they are being hit hard by incentives that the previous governments encouraged.

Will the zones be effective in tackling air pollution?

Clean Air Zones are already in place in London and Germany. Studies in Germany found a significant reduction in particulate matter (small air particles that can get into the lungs causing health problems) levels throughout the zones. Further research in London found that particulate matter levels had fallen by up to 3% over a five-year period within the zones, compared to just 1% outside.

Research into the topic is still ongoing, however; some studies have suggested that air pollution levels within the zones is only improved at the expense of the areas surrounding them. This could be due to drivers choosing to take alternative routes or driving further than usual in order to avoid incurring the charges.