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Clean Air Zones – Coming To A City Near You…

Over the next year or two we will be seeing more and more Clean Air Zones (CAZ) springing up around the country. And, whilst this sounds like a positive step (at least we think it is), individual drivers, and businesses operating a fleet of vehicles, will want to understand the impact this is likely to have.

An introduction to Clean Air Zones

The rising number of Clean Air Zones comes as a result of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) limits that the government signed up to almost 10 years ago. The trouble is, we kept breaching them. This meant that by the time we got to 2017 it was necessary to implement an Air Quality Plan which, among other things, directed local authorities to come up with their own plans for reducing NO2 in their area. The outcome of all this was that Clean Air Zones quickly came to the fore as a practical way to meet these strict emissions targets.

London sets the standard for CAZ

London doesn’t just have a CAZ, it has a ULEZ, or Ultra Low Emission Zone to give it its full title. This means that any vehicles not complying with minimum emission standards are liable to a daily change of £12.50. This includes cars, vans, motorcycles and mopeds (black cabs are exempt). And, if you drive a heavier vehicle such as a bus, coach or HGV, this increases to £100.

The charges are in addition to the current Congestion Charge and the Zone currently follows the same boundary lines. The rules apply round the clock, 365 days a year and, from 2021, the ULEZ will be extended to the North and South Circular roads.

The minimum emission standards needed to avoid the extra charge are:

Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
Euro VI (NOx and PM) for lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles (NOx and PM)

If you are not sure whether your vehicle will fall foul of the new rules then you can visit the Transport for London (TfL) ULEZ Emissions Checker and enter your registration number to get a quick answer.

If you drive within the Zone on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you will have until midnight on Monday (or Tuesday if Monday is a bank holiday) to pay. Whereas a journey taken on Monday through Thursday means you have until midnight on the following day to pay. The payments can be made by visiting the Pay todrive in London page on the TfL website.

Where else are Clean Air Zones planned?

As you might expect, a number of major cities are planning to follow London’s lead and implement a Clean Air Zone or Low Emission Zone. In fact, Oxford have proposed creating a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) in the city centre from as early as next year.

Other cities in England which have confirmed their intention to launch a Clean Air Zone during the course of 2020 include Bath, Birmingham and Leeds. North of the border, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee all have Low Emission Zones (LEZ) approved for next year.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and Cambridge, Cardiff, Leicester, Liverpool and Newcastle, to name just a few, are all known to be drawing up plans for a CAZ of their own. Having said this, not all of the zones planned are based on charging a fee for entry. In some cases it will be enforced through mandatory compliance, such as in York where bus companies who fail to comply with the emissions standards will simply have the license to operate revoked.

Preparing for a Clean Air Zone

Whilst the how and when is yet to be determined for many regions, it is already clear that Clean Air Zones are here to stay and that they will continue to grow in terms of geographical boundaries and punitive measures.

As the TfL site currently advises, if you are affected by the new charges then now is a good time to explore alternative transport methods for entering the Zone, including public transport, Car Clubs or even fitting emissions reduction technology to your current vehicle.

Of course, this will be easier in some cities than others. Central London has excellent public transport services, as does Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, not all cities implementing a CAZ will have alternative solutions which fit with your own driving patterns.

Some drivers may be able to avoid paying the charge by revising their routes or, with a little planning, it may be possible to at least limit the number of times a charging zone is entered.

It’s worth remembering that the roll out plan for Clean Air Zones will be a gradual one. Local authorities will generally provide a schedule and outline of charges well in advance of a zone becoming live. This information will obviously be critical in helping local businesses and individuals prepare for the change.

Of course, along with increasing Vehicle Excise Duty and Benefit in Kind taxation being linked to emissions, Clean Air Zones are yet another reason to look seriously at switching to a low emission vehicle - or even an electric one. A wise choice of car or van not only helps protect the environment but is likely to make sound financial sense as well.

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Posted on 15th July 2019 at 4:12 PM

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