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Clean air zones have been introduced around the UK to help tackle pollution and make the air in our cities more risk-free to breathe. They have already been established in London (planned to be London-wide by 2023), Birmingham, Portsmouth and Bath. But what actually are clean air zones, and how will they affect you as a driver?

What is a clean air zone?

A clean air zone is an area in which a local authority is actively trying to improve the air quality by introducing certain measures. It was initially introduced to apply to taxis, buses and HGVs. However, this was widened to include private vehicles after a legal change, meaning that motorists in general may be affected by them.

Why have clean air zones been introduced?

The introduction of Clean Air Zones in UK cities and eventually beyond city limits is part of the government’s Air Quality Plan which sets out to address sources of pollution and improve overall air quality. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that approximately 40,000 deaths can be linked to airborne pollution.

Air pollution has been connected to health conditions such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, strokes, obesity, dementia and diabetes. These health conditions can have knock on effects, putting pressure on the NHS and costing the country billions per year.

What are the different types of clean air zone?

There are two different type of clean air zone – “Non-charging” and “charging”.

  • Non-charging – non-charging clean air zones work to improve the quality of the air without imposing charges on vehicles that enter the area. This can be done in multiple ways, such as introducing more efficient public transport networks and improving traffic flow management,
  • Government initiatives are also put into place that advise the public to use bicycles, inform the public about the health conditions caused by pollution and advising drivers to switch off their engines when they are parked up.
  • Charging – The other form of clean air zone is one that does charge vehicles to enter. This charge is based on the emissions that a vehicle gives off. In London’s ultra-low emission zone (which has a similar approach to the clean air zone), petrol vehicles that do not pass Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles that don’t confirm to Euro 6 standards have to pay a charge. Fully electric vehicles are free, although hybrid models are not.

Clean air zone classes

Clear air zones that charge fall under the following different categories/classes:

  • Class A affects coaches, buses and taxis.
  • Class B covers taxis, coaches, buses, heavy goods vehicles and private hire vehicles.
  • Class C covers taxis, coaches, buses, heavy goods vehicles, private hire vehicles, minibuses and vans.
  • Class D affects taxis, coaches, buses, heavy goods vehicles, private hire vehicles, minibuses, vans and cars. In this class the local authority also have the option to include motorcycles to pay a fee when they enter the zone.