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What Are Clean Air Zones & Is Your Business Affected?

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is a UK road/area running special initiatives, or driver penalty fees, to improve air quality. Find out if you are affected.

clean air zones

In 1952, the nation visibly faced the repercussions of man-made air pollution when The Great Smog took hold in London, indirectly leading to 12,000 deaths. 68 years on, the air above the UK is still dangerously polluted. In fact, the Guardian reported that ‘toxic air has been at illegal levels in the capital … and results in around 40,000 early deaths a year.’

Transport is the largest source of CO2 emissions (34% data: 2019) – most from road transport. Global pressure and new EU directives have forced the UK to take action, introducing ‘Clean Air Zones’.

It’s important to understand the changes already in place, and those coming your way, so you can properly prepare your business.


What are Clean Air Zones?

Part of the UK government’s efforts to improve air quality will see the introduction of new ‘Clean Air Zones’ in 2021 and 2022.

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is a particular road or area in the UK that a local authority can single out, either for the introduction of special initiatives, or driver penalty fees, in an effort to improve air quality.

There are two types of Clean Air Zone:

Charging CAZ: if your vehicle doesn’t meet the new minimum emission standards, you will be charged a penalty fee for passing through this type of zone. London’s Low Emission Zones (LEZ) and Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) are the most well known examples of this type of zone.

Charging zones often have other non-fee related initiatives in place to improve air quality too.

Non-charging CAZ: within this type of zone, action is being taken to improve air quality using measures other than penalty charges. This may include positive actions such as improved public transport and additional cycle lanes. The government lay out detailed suggestions for local authorities wishing to put these types of initiatives in place in their Clean Air Zone Framework.

An example of a non-charging zone can be found in Southampton, where the council decided against charges in 2017. The city is making alternative efforts such as supporting businesses in finding greener delivery methods, upgrading their buses to lower emission models, and offering £3,000 off licencing costs to taxi drivers who switch to lower emission vehicles.


Clean Air Zones in the UK – which cities will be affected?

London is no stranger to Clean Air Zone efforts, having launched its Ultra-Low Emissions Zone back in 2019 – with plans for expansion to the North and South circular roads in the pipeline for late 2021.

Other than London, at present, only Bath and Birmingham have charging CAZ plans firmly in place. With Bath who launched on 15 March 2021 and Birmingham planning to launch on 1 June 2021.

Many more cities will follow in the coming years, with CAZs mandated for Derby, Nottingham and Southampton because of dire air pollution levels. Additionally, the government singled out 23 local authorities where it expects pollution levels to become illegally high this year, with the expectation that they will review their course of action.

Several councils have put forward CAZ proposals to come into place in 2021 and 2022, including Bristol, Bradford, Manchester,  Portsmouth, Sheffield and York.


Which types of vehicles will be affected?

Each type of vehicle has its own minimum emissions standard – check yours via your logbook or manufacturer.

The minimum emissions standards set for CAZs are:

Buses, coaches, heavy goods vehiclesEuro 6
Vans, minibuses, taxis, private hire vehicles, carsEuro 6 (diesel) and Euro 4 (petrol)
MotorcyclesEuro 3

The types of vehicle subject to new charges differ from zone to zone, as local authorities will decide themselves on the level of restriction to enforce. In particular, local authorities may set different standards for taxis and private hire vehicles.

There are four classes of Clean Air Zone:

Class A: Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles

Class B: Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, HGVs

Class C: Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, HGVs, vans, minibuses

Class D: Buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, HGVs, vans, minibuses, cars & the local authority has the option to include motorcycles


What does a Clean Air Zone look like in practice?

To give an example of what your local authority may be planning, we’ve laid out the planned/existing actions for Bath, Birmingham London:


Bath’s Clean Air Zone

Bath’s Clean Air Zone came into action on 15th March 2021 covering the zone marked out here.

Owners of buses, coaches, HGVs, PHGVs, taxis, vans and private hire vehicles that don’t meet the minimum emission standards, will have to pay a daily fee if they wish to enter the zone. However, private cars and motorbikes won’t be charged.

Bath & North East Somerset Council have opted for a ‘Class C’ CAZ. To support the introduction, the Government has launched an online Clean Air Zone vehicle checker, so that drivers can find out if they will be charged. However, organisations such as the RAC have already voiced concerns as to the accuracy of this tool. For full peace of mind, contact your vehicle manufacturer.


New CAZ charges in Bath:

  • Buses and coaches using diesel EU 5 or earlier, or petrol EU 3 or earlier: £100 per day
  • HGVs using diesel EU 5 or earlier: £100 per day
  • Taxis or private hire vehicles using diesel EU 5 or earlier or petrol EU 3 or earlier: £9
  • Minibuses, vans, light goods vehicle, pick-ups and campervans using diesel EU 5 or earlier or petrol EU 3 or earlier: £9
  • PHGVs using diesel EU 5 or earlier, or petrol EU 3 or earlier: £100 per day

Keep an eye on the Bath & North East Somerset Council Council website for the official launch and latest restrictions, exemptions and funding and support details.


Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone

Due to extremely high NO2 levels over the city, Birmingham is taking action to reduce emissions. They face a government set target of reducing NO2 down to a maximum average of 40μg/m3 as soon as possible.

Covid delayed implementation in 2020, but the council is intending to implement a Class D CAZ on 1 June 2021, covering all the roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, but not the Middleway itself. The zone will run 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Birmingham Council have set up a website to assist with the introduction where you can find official launch details, the latest restrictions, exemptions, funding and support details.

Owners of cars, buses, coaches, taxis (including private hire vehicles and Hackney/black cabs), HGVs, minibuses and vans that don’t meet the minimum emission standards, will have to pay a daily fee if they wish to enter the zone. However, motorbikes won’t be charged.


New CAZ charges in Birmingham:

  • Cars, taxis (Hackney Carriages/black cabs & Private Hire), LGVs (vans) using diesel EU 6 or below and petrol Euro 4 or below: £8 per day
  • HGVs (trucks and lorries), coaches and buses using diesel EU 6 or below and petrol Euro 4 or below: £50


Clean Air Zones in London: the LEZ & ULEZ

clean air zones

Although not labelled as such, CAZs have been in place in London for some time. The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) covering most of Greater London started back in 2008, and ‘operates to encourage the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles driving in London to become cleaner.’

And in 2019, Sadiq Khan announced the introduction of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), covering the same central area subject to London’s Congestion Charge. The ULEZ impacts all vehicles entering or driving through it and operates 24/7 all year round, including public holidays. And the intention is to expand it to the North and South circular roads late this year. Most vehicles, including cars and vans, need to meet the ULEZ emissions standards to pass through, or they will be subject to a charge.


London’s ULEZ charges and standards are as follows:

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

And the charges are:

  • £12.50 for cars, vans and motorcycles
  • £100 for buses, lorries and coaches

These fees are in addition to the daily congestion charge for driving through central London.

The City of London operates their own online checker for the LEZ and ULEZ via TFL.


Vehicle types exempt from any UK CAZ charges:

  • Buses, coaches and HGVs that meet Euro VI emissions
  • Cars, vans and taxis that meet Euro 6 (diesel) or Euro 4 (petrol) emissions standards
  • Ultra-low emission vehicles with a significant zero-emission range
  • disabled passenger tax class vehicle
  • military vehicle
  • historic vehicle
  • vehicle retrofitted with technology accredited by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS)


What do Clean Air Zones mean for your business fleet?

Research commissioned by Northgate Vehicle Hire found that more than a quarter of businesses with fleets don’t know about CAZ plans. With the UK’s current reliance on conventionally-fuelled vehicles estimated to be 300,000 HGVs and over 4,000,000 vans, this is a worrying statistic.

To understand the potential impact of the new zones on your business:

  • Contact your fleet manufacturer(s) and find out if your vehicles meet the minimum emission standards.
  • Get hold of clear data on which areas your vehicles regularly pass through.
  • Identify existing and planned CAZs for each area that your vehicles pass through via local authority websites.
  • Work out the potential penalty fees you may be facing.

Here are some of the actions you may wish to consider when preparing for Clean Air Zones:

  • If your vehicles don’t meet the emission standards, it may be time to switch to alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) instead.
  • Work out if you can optimise your routes, or adapt them to avoid CAZs (but bear in mind, this will likely only be a temporary solution).
  • If your business model involves delivering goods into central cities, could you set-up delivery hubs outside of the city and use greener ‘last-mile’ delivery alternatives?


Time to electrify your fleet?

If your vehicle fleet doesn’t meet the minimum emission standards, it’s possible your running costs are going to dramatically increase in the next few years. If you can’t absorb these costs elsewhere, it’s worth considering making the switch to AFVs. Here are 4 areas to review before making the switch.


Cost of investment

With the retail value of existing non-compliant vehicles falling, the comparative investment of replacing them with CAZ exempt vehicles will also rise, so taking action sooner rather than later will be beneficial.

It’s also important to note that although initial investment costs may be high, you will be saving money in the long term. Electric powered vehicles are cheaper in several ways. They are estimated to be around 60% cheaper when it comes to maintenance and parts. And cost less to run – for example a 5-seat petrol car costs an average of 14.2 pence per mile, while the cost of an equivalent electric car is 3.7 pence per mile.


Driving range concerns

Many fleet owners have concerns around the current driving range of EVs on the market. The good news is, the average driving range of EVs is only increasing, with many models now capable of travelling upwards of 200 miles before needing a charge.

In order to help you decide whether EVs or hybrids can support your needs at present it’s worth arming yourself with the following business insights and seeking advice from manufacturers:

  • Your driver’s daily mileage
  • The routes taken
  • Weight of loads
  • Number of stops made
  • Charge point infrastructure

There are now over 30,000 public charge points across the UK.

However, infrastructure isn’t as developed in certain parts of the country, and so, depending on your routes, you may wish to invest in hybrids initially, or adapt your operations.

You will also need to consider installing charging points on-site to support your network of drivers.

Read more about EV charging for business here.


Available grants & incentives

The government is supporting business adoption of EVs. There are many grants and initiatives available to businesses, for example:

  • plug-in grant exists for vans, giving 20% off the cost of a qualifying low emissions vehicle, up to a maximum of £8,000.
  • You can also claim 35% of the purchase price of a qualifying electric car for up to a maximum of £3,000.
  • And if you place one of the first 200 orders for a qualifying large van or truck, the OZEV grant will pay for 20% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £20,000. The grant will then pay for 20% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £8,000.
  • If you choose to install one or more charging stations on your company premises, you can claim an OZEV grant of £350 per socket – up to a maximum of 40 sockets
  • The Clean Air Fund provides support to individuals and businesses (e.g. vehicle upgrades)

It’s worth also exploring the grants available via your local authority. As an example, Bath Council offer grants of up to 35% of the net upgrade costs to individuals and businesses that qualify – read more here.


Start by starting

Switching a fleet over to electric power is no mean feat. Few can execute it all in one go.

At Mer, we often recommend that businesses start by purchasing or leasing just 1 or 2 EVs and integrating them into their fleet.

Support your new trial EVs with 1 or 2 on-site charge points, taking advantage of the grants currently available. And move forward from there!

There’s no escaping the new Clean Air Zones, and restrictions will only increase as time goes on. Ensure your business isn’t lumbered with large charges by planning ahead and starting your transition today.

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