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Clean Air Zones – what are they and where are they?

A Clean Air Zone is an area in which a local authority has brought measures into place to improve the air quality.

What are Clean Air Zones?

In 2015, the government revealed plans to improve air quality in cities, with the introduction of five Clean Air Zones, to be operational by 2020.

With that date nearing, we take a look at what a clean air zone might consist of, where they are likely to be and how they will affect UK motorists.

What are Clean Air Zones?

A Clean Air Zone is an area in which a local authority has brought measures into place to improve the air quality.

Initially, it was thought that the Clean Air Zones would apply only to buses, taxis and HGVs. However, following a legal challenge, this was widened to include non-compliant private vehicles – meaning private motorists may be affected by them, not just commercial operators.

The creation of Clean Air Zones in major UK cities and possibly beyond is part of the government’s broader Air Quality Plan, which aims to improve air quality and address sources of pollution.

By working at a regional level, it is hoped that local authorities and businesses can take the most effective steps locally to contribute to improved air quality at a national level.

There will be two types of Clean Air Zone: non-charging and charging.

In a non-charging Clean Air Zone, the focus is on improving air quality, without charging money for vehicles entering the zone. Measures can include retrofitting certain vehicles; traffic flow management to reduce vehicle emissions where evidence suggests this approach would be effective on the road in question; rerouting some traffic or other local solutions.

In a charging zone, drivers will be charged a fee to enter the area if their vehicle fails to meet the required environmental standards - this will most likely be based on a car's Euro emissions standard.

Why have they come in?

Government ministers were ordered by the Supreme Court to deliver measures aimed at tackling the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, following pressure by environmental groups.

The Royal College of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health estimates that 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK are linked to poor air quality.

It is hoped that each Clean Air Zone will contribute to the UK’s compliance with the EU’s clean air directive and will reduce levels of air pollution.

Where are they?

The five cities required to introduce a Clean Air Zone by 2020 are Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton, and each local authority is required to produce an initial proposal by March 2018.


Birmingham City Council is currently considering how its Clean Air Zone will operate, and although the exact location of the zone is unknown, it is expected to cover at least part of the city centre. The council is yet to decide which vehicles will be charged to enter the zone.


Derby City Council is in discussions with stakeholders to fully understand the implications of a Clean Air Zone in the city.


The proposed charging Clean Air Zone for Leeds would cover all roads within the Outer Ring Road, with the motorways acting like a southern boundary.

The charges will apply to HGVs, buses, coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles. Daily fees would range from £12.50 for taxis and private hire vehicles, to £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs.

Leeds City Council is also considering seeking government funding to encourage local businesses and transport operators to upgrade their vehicles to meet environmental standards. The council will submit its proposal to the government in early 2018.


Nottingham City Council is working with the government to establish the most effective form of Clean Air Zone, which will run in parallel with other measures designed to improve the city’s air quality.

These include an ‘Eco Expressway’ prioritising electric buses, a Go Ultra Low Nottingham scheme intended to encourage the uptake of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles, and new cycle routes.


The Southampton Clean Air Zone was introduced on a non-charging basis in 2017 and consists of a number of measures designed to reduce emissions while offering incentives to encourage people to become more environmentally conscious.

Access restrictions and penalty charges will be introduced in 2019, with Southampton City Council saying the charges will be set at levels designed to reduce pollution.

Are more coming?

London has its own Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) coming into force in 2019, so is effectively excluded from the Clean Air Zone legislation, but other UK cities have been earmarked for similar projects.

Previously, Clean Air Zones were expected to be established in Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Hull, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Stoke, but were dropped for reasons of expense. These, along with schemes for dozens of other cities, are eventually expected to be revisited.

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