How Will Clean Air Zone Charges Impact Drivers In The UK?

Early last year, Oxford council announced plans to develop the first zero emissions zone in the world. The plans proposed a blanket ban on diesel and petrol vehicles within certain city centre zones by the year 2020, with the ban being extended by 2035 to cover the entire city.

Many UK cities have reacted positively to the proposals, with Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle Upon Tyne (among others) looking into introducing their own zero emissions zones over the coming years. Grange, who specialise in prestige vehicles such as the used Jaguar F Type are here to explore the matter further, outlining how drivers will be impacted by the changes and which UK cities are likely to be involved.

The definition of a clean air zone

According to government documentation, a clean air zone is defined as “an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality and resources are prioritised and coordinated in order to shape the urban environment in a way that delivers improved health benefits and supports economic growth”.

As well as bettering public health, the government stipulates that the plans will improve the UK economy.The zones aim to tackle air pollution from a variety of sources, including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, reducing public exposure using a range of different measures, which will be specifically tailored to each location.

The city of Oxford has dangerously high levels of nitrogen pollution at present, with many areas of the city falling outside of the legal boundaries for safe pollution levels. The proposed plans would bring the city back within the legal specifications for toxin levels, with the intention of improving public health and reducing environmental harm.

How will drivers be charged?

Vehicles that cause the highest amount of pollution will be amongst the first to be affected by the charges – these include:

  • HGV’s
  • Taxis
  • Busses

Drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles will not be charged at all and private vehicle owners will not be charged initially, however, all vehicles will ultimately be divided into different categories and charged according to which class they fall 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 fall under.

Councils will get to decide the charges amongst themselves, meaning that not all of the zones will have fixed penalties. Penalties will not be compulsory, 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.

Which cities have been selected to be included?

The cities with the highest levels of pollutants have been selected by the government to be included in the plans – these are:

  • Birmingham
  • Nottingham
  • Leeds
  • Derby

Other UK cities awaiting approval include:

  • Hull
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne
  • Manchester
  • Liverpool

Are the zones effective in reducing pollution levels?

Both Germany and London have already implemented clean air zones. 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 found that particulate matter levels had fallen by up to 3% over a five-year period within the zones, compared to just 1% outside.

Studies on the topic are still being carried out, however – some research has shown that airborne pollutants do decrease within the zones, but only at the expense of the surrounding areas. This could be due to drivers choosing alternative routes or driving further than they usually would to avoid incurring charges.

Air pollutant scientist Dr Gary Fuller remains optimistic about the situation, however, stating that air quality will be improved by the use of the new Euro 6 standard for diesel vehicles which will be implemented in London in 2019. The zones are being implemented with the intention of people trading in their used cars for newer, more technologically advanced models. Evidence suggests that Clean Air Zones which have already imposed charges on older vehicle models have already benefited from significantly reduced pollution levels and once the zones become more widespread, standards are likely to improve.