Big cities like London have had measures in place to lower pollution for years. But since stricter emissions targets were introduced, ‘clean air zones’ have slowly but surely been popping up around the country. The question is, what are they? What are the rules? And what do they mean for your daily journeys?
If you’ve spotted a new green air zone sign on your morning commute, or come across one on a recent family outing, you might be confused about what they mean and what you need to do. In this post, we’ll cover the need-to-know information on clean air zones, including where they are, how much they cost, and the type of vehicles they apply to.
Clean air zones are designated spaces introduced to improve air quality in urban areas. Controlled and managed by local authorities, they’re designed to reduce congestion in places with high pollution by charging motorists to drive through.
There are four types of clean air zones, from Class A to Class D. Each class applies to different vehicle types, so not all clean air zones will cover general car drivers.
Let’s take a look at what the different clean air zone classes mean…
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses
Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses, cars, motorcycles (at the discretion of the local authority)
As you can see, the only type of clean air zone day-to-day drivers need to worry about is Class D – and that’s if your car doesn’t meet the minimum emission standards. Confused? Let us explain.
Every vehicle type has a minimum emission standard which controls whether you’ll need to pay when driving through a clean air zone. If your car doesn’t meet the standard, you’ll be charged each time you enter a clean air zone.
For car drivers, the minimum emission standard is Euro 4 for petrol engines and Euro 6 for diesel. It’s the same for vans and minibuses, too.
Not sure if your car meets the clean air zone minimum emission standard? You can check its Euro rating in your logbook or online. Even if you don’t live near a clean air zone, it’s worth knowing if your vehicle meets the standard in case you ever encounter one.
A handful of cities around the UK already have clean air zones in place, including Bath, Birmingham and Portsmouth. However, Birmingham is the only place in the country with a Class D clean air zone, which means motorists whose cars don’t meet the minimum emission standard are already paying to drive into parts of the city.
Three cities might not sound like a lot, but lots more plan to introduce clean air zones in the next year or so. Indeed, places like Bradford, Bristol and Tyneside will enforce them in 2022, while Greater Manchester also has an operational clean air zone that’s under review and almost ready for launch.
With stringent emissions targets set by the government, it’s expected that many more local authorities will create clean air zones over the next 12 months. Keep up to date with the GOV.UK clean air zones portal for guidance on upcoming rule changes.
Clean air zone charges differ by the local authority and the vehicle in question. For instance, car, van and minibus drivers will pay less than bus and HGV drivers, but the amount may differ depending on where you are.
In Birmingham, where a Class D clean air zone is already in place, cars, taxis and vans must pay £8, rising to £50 for HGVs, coaches and buses. It’s hard to say how much other local authorities will charge when their zones go live, but prices should fall within a similar ballpark.
For many individuals and businesses, clean air zone charges represent a significant overhead on top of already squeezed incomes. Of course, some vehicles will be exempt, but if you are struggling with running costs, the government has several schemes and initiatives that may be able to help. What’s more, the Clean Air Fund has allocated support funding to several local authorities to help individuals transition to a more environmentally friendly form of travel.
To use a clean air zone, you can pay the charge over a 13-day period. That includes six days before your journey, the day of the journey itself, and six days prior. You need to pay the charge by 11.59pm on the final day of this period to avoid a penalty charge notice, which is £120 (reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days).
Paying clean air zone charges is simplest done through the GOV.UK portal. Here you can check whether you need to pay and make payments. You can also pay for multiple journeys and vehicles at a time, which is good news for commuters or fleet operators.
It’s worth remembering that clean air zones operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you’ll always have to pay if your vehicle doesn’t meet the minimum emissions standard.
If you’re concerned about the long-term cost of clean air zones in your area and can’t feasibly switch to a different mode of transport, it may be worth investing in a low-emissions vehicle that’s exempt from clean air charges.
Most ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEVs), including electric cars, are exempt from clean air zone charges. And while switching to an expensive electric car may sound counterintuitive to saving money, you could greatly reduce your day-to-day running costs – particularly given current petrol and diesel fuel prices and the rising number of clean air zones appearing around the country.
Remember, too, that there are a whole range of grants and incentives available for motorists looking to switch to a ULEV, so buying an electric car may not be as out of reach as it sounds.
While few people would disagree with the need to curb emissions and reduce pollution, green air zones are a divisive issue. With vehicle running costs at an all-time high and many people feeling the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis, clean air zone charges may be an unwelcome extra cost for millions of commuters, travellers, and businesses up and down the country.
In the market for a ULEV to help bring down your day-to-day running costs? At Brindley, we offer a choice of new, nearly new and used electric and hybrid cars, some of which may be exempt from clean air zone charges. Click here to browse our full range of cars from manufacturers like Hyundai, Honda and Nissan or contact your local dealership.