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Clean air zone charges: the growing cost of not going green

17 October 2022

The UK government's long-term plan to transition to zero-emission road transport is summarised in the Road to Zero strategy. It includes the introduction of 'Clean Air Zones' to improve the air quality in highly polluted areas.  

On October 25, 2021, London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expanded to 18 times its original size. The zone now covers everywhere within the north and south circular roads and is thought to have taken around 47,000 polluting vehicles off London's streets every day. The Mayor said it had brought cleaner air to around 3.8 million people by creating a 30 per cent reduction in polluting nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) in London. ULEZ currently charges drivers £12.50 a day on top of any congestion charge fees (or £100 per day for lorries, coaches, and buses) and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week except Christmas Day. The Mayor also recently announced plans to extend London's ultra-low emission zone to include the whole of Greater London by the end of next year.   

Several other British cities outside London have either launched or announced plans to introduce clean air zones and low emission charges this year; it's essential to ensure you're aware of these changes to avoid unexpected penalties. Oxford, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Bradford, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Sheffield have taken steps to implement 'Clean Air Zones' throughout the year. 

Oxford City Council started a pilot to charge non-zero emission vehicles in the city centre on February 28, as part of their plan to become the first city in Britain to introduce a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) between 7 am to 7 pm each day, seven days a week and at the cost of £0 for zero-emission vehicles up to £10 a day for vehicles not meeting the emissions standards. Oxford City Council's website has information on streets affected by the new zone and details regarding exemptions and discounts. 

The rollout of Greater Manchester’s plans to introduce an emissions zone on May 30, 2022, for buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs, and LGVs (excluding cars), at the cost of £7.50 to £60, depending on the price of your vehicle has been delayed until July.   

Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow will introduce low emissions zones in Spring 2022 but won't enforce them until 2024. Vehicles including buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs, and car drivers that don't meet the emissions standards won't be allowed to drive in the zone. These zones will apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week and a penalty of £60 (reduced by 50 per cent if paid within two weeks) applies. Funding is also available to support eligible people preparing for the new zones, including retrofit and disposal grants. 

Bristol will introduce a new daily charge of £9 for cars, taxis, and light goods vehicles (under 3.5t) in Summer 2022. There is financial support available to help people with the cost of paying the charge or upgrading their vehicle – this includes grants for small businesses and the self-employed based in the zone. 

Some cities such as Bath and Birmingham are already imposing charges, and most cities will have introduced Clear Air Zones by the end of 2022. Therefore, fleet managers are now dealing with reducing harmful emissions to avoid the payment of charges. The Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) has developed a blueprint designed to help deliver greater retail uptake of the latest electric vehicles, amongst other measures to ensure that the electric revolution is affordable, achievable, and accessible to all by the government's 2030 deadline.


The UK's current low emissions zones  


While this doesn't apply to cars, Bath has been running a clean air zone since March 21 2021, for buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs, and LGVs at the cost of £9 to £100 a day, depending on the vehicle. 


Birmingham's clean air zone was introduced on June 1, 2021, and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The charge is £8 for cars and vans, or a higher rate of £50 for buses, coaches, and HGVs.  


Portsmouth's clean air zone came in on November 29, 2021, and applies to buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, and HGVs – cars, motorcycles, and vans don't have to pay the charge. 

Please check the government website for further information, including details of charges and how to pay.

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This note is not intended to give legal or financial advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon for such or regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. In preparing this note we have relied on information sourced from third parties and we make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein. You should not act upon information in this bulletin nor determine not to act, without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. We and our officers, employees or agents shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever arising from the recipient’s reliance upon any information we provide herein and exclude liability for the content to fullest extent permitted by law.

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