Emission Zones – What and Where Are They?

Low emission sign

You have probably heard of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in the London area. However, do you know what it actually is? Also, were you aware that there are other cities and towns around the UK which have introduced different types of low emission zones with different enforcement charges and requirements.

Here I will go through some of those places with restrictions already in force. I will also take you through some of the cities and towns in the UK that are bringing low emission zones into force in the near future.

Breaking Down the Jargon

Briefly here I will just get some of the acronyms deciphered for you. There does appear to be a lot of acronyms in the electric vehicle (EV) world for some reason. It isn’t always immediately obvious what they mean. BEV, PHEV and kWh spring to mind. Battery Electric Vehicle, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and Kilowatt Hour in case you wondered.

With the emission zones there are several different types. These mainly being CAZ, LEZ, ULEZ and ZEZ. CAZ stands for Clean Air Zone, LEZ stands for Low Emission Zone, ULEZ is Ultra Low Emission Zone and ZEZ is Zero Emission Zone.

OK, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

London – Ultra Low Emission Zones

Starting in 1993, the London Air Quality Network from King’s College London monitored the air pollution in the London boroughs. It was noted that between 2005 and 2006 the nitrogen dioxide limits were exceeded in nearly every kerbside monitoring location. Eleven of the sites exceeded 5 times the limit. This was a serious concern for the health of the inhabitants of the city.

In 2008 the Mayor of London introduced a Low Emission Zone with phased introduction in order to cut emissions by 16%. This was made even tougher in 2019 with the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone. This zone initially covered the same area as the current congestion charge. However, the zone was extended to the north and south circular roads in 2021. There is to be a further expansion in August 2023 when the zone will be extended to cover all of the London Boroughs.

The charge for non compliant vehicles entering the zone is £12.50 per day. This applies to motorbikes not meeting Euro 3 standards, petrol cars and vans not meeting Euro 4 standards and diesel cars and vans not meeting Euro 6 standards. There is a hefty £100 per day fine for buses and lorries entering the zone that do not meet Euro 6 standards.

All money made from fines go towards monitoring and improving the air pollution levels in the capital. Every bus in London meets the standards, with many now zero emission vehicles.

London street image

Clean Air Zone Cities

Birmingham: The Birmingham Clean Air Zone covers all the roads that are located in the Middle Way Ring Road and came into force in 2021. Similar to London, this zone introduced charges for petrol vehicles not compliant with Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles not compliant with Euro 6 standards. Non compliant vehicles pay a charge of £8 per day to enter the zone. Non compliant lorries and buses have to pay £50 per day.

Bristol: This Clean Air Zone was introduced in 2022 and has the same restrictions as both London and Birmingham. Non-compliant vehicles have to pay £9 per day to enter the restricted area. HGVs and buses have to pay £100 per day if they are non compliant.

Bath, Bradford and Portsmouth: These three areas are interesting as they have restrictions in place, but they only apply to business vehicles such as taxis, buses and HGVs. Privately owned vehicles are completely unaffected by the restrictions in place.

Clean air image

Oxford – Taking a Strong Approach to Emission Zones

Of all the cities and towns that have taken a stand, none has gone quite as far as Oxford when it comes to the strictness of applying charges.

Compared to the other zones, the Oxford Zero Emission Zone is by far the smallest. There are only 9 streets affected, with notable locations such as Jesus College and the Oxford Union being directly in the middle. However, enter this area in anything other than an electric vehicle or hydrogen vehicle and you will be expected to pay. The fees range from £2 to £10 depending on how polluting the vehicle is.

Although limited, you can bet that this zone will expand in years to come.

Jesus College Oxford image

Other Places and Those That Are Coming

There are Cities that have already introduced restrictions, such as Glasgow who were the very first in Scotland to introduce Low Emission Zones. It won’t be alone in Scotland for very long though. Already approved zones that are coming into force in 2024 include Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh.

South of the border there are also several zones with enforcement coming in the near future. These places include Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. The restrictions being put in place will mostly just apply to commercial vehicles initially, although we expect that all vehicles will be included at some point down the line.

Low Emission Zone image

Final Thoughts

There has been a lot of opposition to many of these zones coming into force. The expansion of the London ULEZ zone has been a particular bone of contention for some. Interestingly, there are even some EV supporters who think the expansion is coming too quickly.

However, when we look at the reasons behind why the emission zones are being introduced, it is hard to argue against their existence. Since the LEZ was first introduced in London, the air quality has been improving. Millions of pounds are spent by the NHS every year treating illnesses directly linked to air pollution. 

One tragedy that really hammers home the importance of clean air is the story of Ella Kissi-Debrah. A 9-year-old girl who died in 2013 from an asthma attack. What makes her death so important is that it was the first death to be officially recorded as being caused by air pollution. This was a ground-breaking decision that should lead to a positive change.

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