In early 2017, Oxford City Council outlined their plans to implement the first zero emissions zone in the world within the city centre. The plans would include a ban on all petrol and diesel cars within specified zones by 2020, with further plans in place to extend the ban to all areas of the city centre by the year 2035.
City councils all over the UK have responded positively to the plans, with Leeds, Southampton and Birmingham city council looking at implementing their own zero emissions zones in the next few years.
We explore the matter further with the help of Grange vehicle retailers, to find out what a Clean Air Zone is, which vehicles will be impacted by the bans and whether they will be truly effective in tackling air pollution.
What is a Clean Air Zone and why are they being introduced?
Clean Air Zones have officially been defined as “an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality and resources are prioritised and coordinated in order to shape the urban environment in a way that delivers improved health benefits and supports economic growth”.
As well as improving public health, the government stipulates that the plans will improve the UK economy. The zones aim to tackle air pollution from a variety of sources, including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, reducing public exposure using a range of different measures, which will be specifically tailored to each location.
Oxford currently has extremely high nitrogen levels, which fall outside of legal limits in the UK and can lead to harmful diseases such as asthma, heart disease and various cancers. The proposed plans would bring the city back within the legal specifications for toxin levels, with the intention of improving public health and reducing environmental harm.
Who will be affected by the charges?
HGV’s, taxis and busses will be among the first vehicles to be charged for entering the zones due to their high outputs of pollutants. The charges will not apply to private vehicle owners initially and vehicles which meet the definition of ultra-low emission (such as fully electric vehicles) will not have to pay at all.
To start with, private vehicle owners will not be charged, however, all vehicles will ultimately be divided into different categories and charged according to which class they fall under. The four classes are: A. B. C and D and have been selected according to vehicle type, emissions and euro standard. The government has released a report outlining the Clean Air Zone framework, so you can check which category your vehicle will fall under.
Local authorities and councils will have the final say on what the charges will be and not all of the zones will have a fixed fee. Penalties will not be compulsory either, however, councils which do decide to implement charges will have the right to charge penalty fines if drivers do not comply with the zone charges.
Bath City Council have been considering their own Clean Air Zone charges, with fees of £3 to £13 per day for high emission vehicles being suggested.
Which cities will be included?
The cities selected by the government to be included in the plans have been chosen according to which cities have the highest levels of air pollution – these include:
There are a few other cities in the UK awaiting approval for the plans – these include:
- Newcastle Upon Tyne
These plans could potentially impact over 30 city zones, in which all vehicles (publicly and privately owned) could face driving bans within city centres during the busiest traffic times. Charges within the most polluted areas could end up costing as much as £20 per day.
Do Clean Air Zones help to reduce pollution?
Clean Air Zones are already active in some areas of London, as well as in Germany. Studies in Germany found a significant reduction in particulate matter (small air particles that can get into the lungs causing health problems) levels throughout the zones. Further research found that particulate matter levels had fallen by up to 3% over a five-year period within the zones, compared to just 1% outside.
Research into the full effects of Clean Air Zones is ongoing, however, with some studies indicating that air pollution levels within the zones are improved to the detriment of the surrounding routes. This could be due to drivers choosing alternative routes or driving further than they usually would to avoid incurring charges.
In addition, in 2013, research conducted into London’s Clean Air Zone found that there were ‘no discernible changes’ to nitrogen levels within the zone. Air pollutant scientist Dr Gary Fuller remains optimistic about the situation, however, stating that air quality will be improved by the use of the new Euro 6 standard for diesel vehicles which will be implemented in London in 2019.
The zones are being implemented with the intention of people trading in their used cars for newer, more technologically advanced models. Evidence suggests that Clean Air Zones which have already imposed charges on older vehicle models have already benefited from significantly reduced pollution levels and once the zones become more widespread, standards are likely to improve.