Clean air zones: where are Britain's low emission zones?

Up to 16 city centre pollution tolls are planned: see where the low emission zones will appear

Dominic Tobin
May 18, 2018
Clean air zones: cars in underpass

Daily tolls for older vehicles are being considered in up to 16 city centres across Britain, as councils crack down on road pollution in an effort to improve air quality.

In some cases, charges of more than £10 a day are being considered in the most polluted urban areas. The tolls will extend to car drivers in several proposed schemes, including London's ultra low emissions zone.

Diesel owners will be worst-affected, with most cars older than three-years liable for charges. Newer and cleaner petrol and diesel vehicles won't be subject to charges in clean air zones. Neither will electric cars.

In other areas, tolls will be restricted to lorries, vans, buses and taxis. Further into the future, zero emission zones will bring in much stricter limits. Scroll down for more information on these clean air zones, and a map of the locations where charges are expected.


What are clean air zones and low emission zones?

Clean air zones and low emission zones are areas of worst pollution, where air quality regularly falls below legal limits. Councils that set them up will take action to cut emissions, from improving traffic flow to charging the most polluting vehicles a daily rate.

In other words, a clean air zone (CAZ) is exactly the opposite of its title. They are starting to be set up across the country, as European law forces Britain to clean up areas where air pollution is at illegal levels. This won't be affected by Brexit because the legislation is duplicated in British law. 

Measures taken in clean air zones can involve improving the flow of traffic or reducing car numbers with a park and ride scheme, for example. Councils can also charge the most polluting vehicles that drive through the zone, and many, shown on the map below, plan to do so.


Cars exempt from clean air zone and low emission zone charges

All clean air zones are expected to comply with a government guidelines which makes the most modern and cleanest vehicles exempt from CAZ charges. These vehicles comply with recent emissions standards known as Euro 4, 5 and 6. These include:

  • Petrol cars meeting the Euro 4 standard or later (including every car sold since January 2006) and
  • Diesel cars that meet the tougher Euro 6 standard (every car sold since September 2015).
  • Electric cars

The rules are similar for vans, while lorries and coaches registered since 2014 will also be exempt, as will motorbikes sold over the past ten years. See full details in the table below



Clean air zones and low emission zones: current and future


Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emissions standards

Aberdeen is one of four Scottish cities where low emission zones are planned by 2020. Unlike English and Welsh proposals, the Scottish government plans to ban cars that don't meet the usual emissions standards, set out below, from the zones.

If you do drive in with a car that's banned, then you'll receive a penalty, which a government consultation has suggested would be higher than a standard clean air zone charge.


Bath & North East Somerset

Clean air zone planned for 2020
Vehicles affected buses, coaches, taxies and lorries. Possibly some vans and cars

Bath & North East Somerset Council is planning a clean air zone in the centre of Bath, and is currently examining three options. All involve charging buses, coaches, taxis and lorries, with the usual exemptions for the most modern and cleanest vehicles set out below. Charges of between £3 and £13 per day are under consideration.

A second option would add vans to the list of vehicles to be charged when driving through the zone. A third would charge cars - again most petrol cars and all diesel cars sold after September 2015 would be exempt.



Clean air zone planned by the end of 2019
Vehicles affected unknown

Birmingham is second only to London in its peak air pollution figures, with air pollution from nitrogen oxides (NOx) expected to average 53 microgrammes (µg) per cubic metre in 2018, well above the legal limit of 40µg/m3.

As a result, the city has been ordered to introduce a clean air zone by the end of 2019 at the latest. It's reported that the Zone could cover much of Birmingham's centre and charging cars, as well as other vehicles, is under consideration. A local scrappage scheme is also thought to be on the cards.



Clean air zone under consideration
Vehicles affected unknown

Bristol City Council is currently considering everything and nothing: from a clean air zone that brings in some measures to reduce emissions without charging, to the full London option, where all older vehicles will have to pay to drive in a sizeable area of Bristol. Five different proposals are currently being considered before councillors make their decision.



Clean air zone feasibility study underway
Vehicles affected unknown

Cardiff has the worst pollution in Wales, and NOx levels exceed legal limits in some areas of the city, It has been told to investigate the possibility of a clean air zone by the Welsh government and is due to report back in 2019 with a proposal to improve air quality. It's too early to tell whether vehicle charging will form part of this.



Clean air zone a possibility
Vehicles affected unknown

Derby is one of five councils outside London that have been told to set up clean air zones to deal with air pollution that's far in excess of legal limits (more than 10µg/m3 over the 40µg/m3 standard in Derby's case).

It appears to be the only one of the five that has rejected a charging scheme in favour of alternative measures, including a proposal for a local scrappage scheme, which would depend on agreement and funding from the government.



Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emissions standards

Another Scottish town that's expected to ban the most polluting vehicles and fine them if they drive into a low emission zone, Dundee is expected to introduce measures by 2020, and so has not yet made detailed plans.



Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emissions standards

Scotland's capital city suffers from the worst pollution in the country, with more areas of illegal air quality than anywhere else north of the border. It's due to introduce a low emission zone that will ban older vehicles from driving through and fine them if they do.



Low emission zone planned for this year
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emissions standards

Scotland's first low emission zone was due to be introduced this year, but it's possible that the schedule may slip into 2019.

It will be the first test of the penalty model in Britain, where the most polluting vehicles are banned from driving into the zone. Drivers will be sent a penalty if they try. The vehicle criteria and fine amount has not yet been announced.



Clean air zone planned for 2019
Vehicles affected buses, lorries, taxis and minicabs

Encompassing a huge area within Leeds' outer ring road, which extends down to the M621 in the south (the motorway won't be part of the zone), the proposed clean air zone will have a huge effect on taxi and lorry drivers, but shouldn't affect most motorists because it's not going to apply to cars.

Leeds has some of the most polluted roads in the country, with average NOx levels of 55µg/m3, which is 38% above legal limits. Its modelling is said to show that emissions can be cut adequately without having an impact on car owners.



T-Charge already in place. Ultra low emission zone due to begin next April
Vehicles affected All vehicles which don't meet minimum emission standards 

The capital's atrocious air quality is expected to be more than double the legal limit in some areas this year, which is why London was the first to introduce a low emission zone for all vehicles, which began operating last October. Charges only apply to cars, vans, coaches and lorries that are more than a decade old, but the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) will have a much greater impact next year.

The ULEZ will use the same criteria as other clean air zones, imposing a daily £12.50 fee on all but the latest diesel cars and vans, as well as a £100 day rate for lorries that are more than five years old. The zone is currently limited to the very centre of London, but there are plans for a huge expansion out to the North and South Circular roads by the end of 2021.

In addition, London plans zero emission zones in the capital from 2020, where all vehicles will be charged unless they are plug-in hybrid, electric or hydrogen vehicles that can run without any exhaust emissions.



Clean air zone has been considered for 2020
Vehicles affected unknown

Seven local authorities in Greater Manchester have roads where air pollution exceeds legal limits, and so residents in the area could find themselves negotiating three different clean air zones.

According to a report in the Manchester Evening News last year, officials were considering charging older cars £7.50 a day to drive in the affected area. That was contradicted by statements by Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester's elected Mayor, who hinted that banning the most polluting vehicles - particularly lorries - from certain roads, could help to improve air quality without the need for charging. All is expected to be revealed soon.



Clean air zone being planned for 2019
Vehicles affected unknown

Nottingham is one of the five councils outside of London that's being forced to implement a clean air zone by the government, as a result of air pollution that's more than 10µg/m3 over the legal limit in some areas.

The council is still carrying out modelling work to determine where the zone will be set up and how it will operate. Recent comments suggest that drivers of older lorries, buses, coaches, taxis and minicabs are most likely to be charged, while car drivers avoid fees.



Clean air zone proposal is being examined
Vehicles affected Possibly lorries and buses; not cars

Last December, Sheffield City Council ruled out introducing clean air zone charges for cars and taxis but the council is carrying out a feasibility study into charging lorries, coaches and buses.

The council has said that it's banking on alternative measures to cut high air pollution, which averages 51µg/m3 in some areas. The measures include introducing anti-idling zones which would require drivers to switch off their engines when parked; retrofitting buses with cleaner engine technology; and potentially a small-scale scrappage scheme for low-income drivers.



Clean air zone planned for 2019
Vehicles affected expected to include lorries and potentially vans

Southampton has confirmed that it will charge vehicles to enter its clean air zone from 2019 but the local authority has not yet announced the location of the zone or the vehicles affected.

An earlier council document on air quality stated that charges would only apply to the most polluting commercial vehicles in the zone but it's not known whether this is still the case.



Clean air zone proposal being examined
Vehicles affected unknown

Warrington estimates that there were 95 premature deaths in 2013, due to pollution from tiny exhaust particles alone. Even though pollution is predicted to be within EU legal limits this year, the borough council is still considering introducing a clean air zone.

The council is looking into the viability and effectiveness of a zone and says that the location and types of vehicle affected will form part of this. The study is part of the council's latest local transport plan, which is expected to be announced in a consultation document this year.

Clean air zones: exempt vehicles

Vehicle typeMin. emission standard
MotorbikesEuro 3 (all models registered since Jul 2007)
Cars & small vansPetrol Euro 4 (Jan 2006)
Diesel Euro 6 (Sep 2015)
Vans & minibusesPetrol Euro 4 (Jan 2007)
Diesel Euro 6 (Sep 2016)
Lorries Euro VI (Jan 2014)
Coaches and busesEuro VI (Jan 2014)
Historic vehicleMore than 40 years old

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