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

Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow & Southampton latest to announce clean air zone charges: see a map of low emission zones & how much you'll pay

Dominic Tobin
Aug 2, 2018

Drive past one of the signs above and you could face a daily charge of £10 or more. Inner-city charging zones will soon be introduced across Britain, in cities that include Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, London and Southampton.

More than a dozen councils with the most polluted roads are looking to set up clean air zones, some of which will involve tolls of more than £10 a day for older vehicles. Scottish cities plan to ban older vehicles from driving in city centres outright.

Schemes will begin launching next year and Leeds has already published its proposals of what the signs will look like, above. 

Car drivers will be targeted in several proposed schemes, including London's ultra low emission zone, as well as low emission zones in Birmingham and Glasgow. Diesel owners will be worst-affected, as most models sold before September 2015 will be affected. 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 but parking surcharges for diesel drivers could be introduced. Further into the future, zero emission zones will bring in much stricter limits: some mayors want petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2030 in their cities. Scroll down for more details of what's proposed in each clean air zone


Clean air zones map

Full details of low emission zone proposals - click below

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. Many, shown on the map below, plan to do so, using automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) to track vehicles and check their emission rating.


Cars exempt from clean air zone and low emission zone charges

All clean air zones are expected to comply with a government guidelines which make the most modern and cleanest vehicles exempt from CAZ charges. These vehicles comply with recent emission 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

Clean air zones: cars in underpass


Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected Buses and lorries failing to meet minimum emission standards

Aberdeen is one of four Scottish cities where low emission zones are planned by 2020. Unlike Glasgow's wide-ranging scheme that will ban older cars and taxis from city centre roads, Aberdeen is only looking at restricting buses and lorries.

As with other Scottish schemes, you're not expected to have the option of a daily charge if you have a vehicle that doesn't meet the required standard. Drivers of banned buses and lorries are likely to be issued with a penalty fee for driving in the zone, 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.

The council is also examining whether Bath should introduce differential parking charges, based on fuel type, which would likely introduce a surcharge for diesel vehicles.



Clean air zone planned for the end of 2019
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emission standards
Low emission charge £6 to £12.50 for non-compliant cars; £50 to £100 for lorries and buses

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.

The scale of the problem has resulted in Birmingham City Council proposing a large clean air zone within (but not on) the A4540 middle ring road. The charging zone includes the A38 Queensway through the centre of the city.

All vehicles that don't meet the minimum emission standards (including most diesel cars sold before September 2015) would incur a charge. The council is considering a fee of between £6 and £12.50 per day for cars and its documents suggest that the charge will be at the higher end of this. Charges for lorries and buses will be between £50 and £100.

At the same time, Birmingham is using £2.92m of government grant money to increase electric vehicle charging points, and is ordering hydrogen-powered buses. There's an outside chance of a local scrappage scheme to help drivers of older cars upgrade to cleaner models.



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 at the end of this year,



Clean air zone being examined for 2020
Vehicles affected unknown

Cambridge has recently published its Air Quality Action Plan, which includes mention of a feasibility study into a Clean Air Zone. If it goes ahead, the Zone will cover central Cambridge and come into place during 2020, according to the document.

The study will consider the effect of including private cars in the charging scheme, as well as buses, taxis and lorries. One possibility involves "potentially permitting access to low emission vehicles only", alongside reducing the amount of parking available in the city, the plan states.



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 Either none, or all lorries, buses, vans and cars failing to meet minimum emission standards

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 has published a consultation with three options, two of which include charging cars that don't meet minimum emission standards.

However, the council says that its preferred option involves restricting traffic on Stafford Street, part of the city's inner ring road where air pollution is particularly bad. The council would also set up a scrappage scheme, which would offer drivers of older cars one of three incentives to scrap them: a large discount towards an electric car; a smaller amount of money towards a modern petrol or diesel car; or credits towards public transport and car sharing club.

A second option would create a clean air zone within the inner ring road. Cars, vans, lorries and buses would be charged if they don't comply with the emissions requirements. There would also be traffic restrictions on Stafford Street, as well as a scrappage scheme.

A huge clean air zone within the city's outer ring road is part of a third option. It would be bordered by Queensway in the East and Raynesway in the West, going as far north as the roundabout at Little Eaton and to Warwick Avenue in the South. A scrappage scheme covering residents of the zone, as well as commuters to Derby would also be introduced.



Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emission 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. The council is drawing up proposals, which are expected to be published shortly.



Low emission zone planned by 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emission 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 currently working on plans for a low-emission zone, which is likely to be finalised next year.

Council documents reveal that a city-wide zone is under consideration, as are a series of mini-zones in the areas of poorest air quality. Vehicles failing to meet modern emission standards will be banned from the affected areas entirely and the Council is considering including private cars in the scheme. It's expected to announce more information on the plans later this summer



Low emission zone rolled out between December 2018 and December 2022
Vehicles affected All vehicles failing to meet minimum emission standards Low emission charge Drivers of non-compliant vehicles will be fined

Glasgow's low emission zone will come into force at the end of this year. Initially, only local buses in the centre of the city will be affected.

The city council plans to extend restrictions to all vehicles, including older petrol and diesel cars, from December 2022. The zone will cover the same central area, which is bordered by the River Clyde, M8 and High Street.

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 January 2020
Vehicles affected buses, lorries, taxis and minicabs that don't meet minimum emission standards Low emission charge £50 for affected taxis; £50 for lorries and buses

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

Taxi drivers will be forced to upgrade to hybrid or electric vehicles to avoid the £12.50 daily charge; most lorries first bought before 2014 will be subject to the charge.

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 Low emission charge £12.50 per day for affected cars; £100 for lorries

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, called T-Charge, 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 it will become enormous in 2021, when it is due to expand out to the North and South Circular roads.

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.

Another option being explored by Manchester is differential parking charging, where vehicles could be charged based on their emissions. All is expected to be revealed soon.



Zero emission zone from 2020
Vehicles affected All vehicles that don't run on electric power

Oxford has had a low emission zone in place since 2014 but this has so far only affected buses. It's planning on toughening its approach considerably and matching London in making the centre a zero emission zone where only electric- or hydrogen-powered vehicles can drive. This is likely to include plug-in hybrid cars - which have a large battery in addition to a petrol or diesel engine - as long as they are only running on electric power within the zone. Taxis, vans, buses and private cars will be targeted initially, followed by lorries in 2035, when the technology for electric lorries is anticipated to be commonplace.

From 2020, it's proposed that the zone will cover a small zone in the centre of Oxford, around Cornmarket Street, which is already pedestrianised for much of the day. It would then expand further south in 2025, before encompassing the majority of the city centre in 2030. The station will be just outside the boundary in the West, and it will continue up to Magdalen College in the East.


Clean air zone under consideration
Vehicles affected unknown

Reading Borough Council is planning to consult residents over the introduction of a clean air zone to improve air quality, even though nitrogen oxide levels are expected to comply with legal limits by 2020.

The type of vehicles and cost are still under consideration, as is the scope of the zone: officials are examining a wide area, as council documents speak of "tackling higher polluting vehicles travelling through the Reading borough".



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 Lorries, buses, coaches and taxis failing to meet minimum emission standards
Low emission charge £12.50 per day for non-compliant taxis; £100 for lorries and buses

Southampton has announced a consultation into its clean air zone plans, which include a £100-per-day charge for lorries, buses and coaches that fail to meet minimum emission requirements. Local businesses are expected to challenge the proposals, which would quickly add up for anyone operating an older vehicle.

Diesel taxi drivers will also be targeted as part of Southampton's plans: Owners of vehicles that fail to meet the Euro 6 standard will be liable for a £12.50 daily charge.



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

Most clean air zones are expected to exclude or charge vehicles that fail to meet the emission standards below. However, there are likely to be exceptions, particularly for the zero emission zones being planned by London and Oxford.

Vehicle typeMin. emission standard to be exempt
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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