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

Clean Air Zones – what are they and where are they?
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 the coronavirus outbreak impacting traffic levels, and new initiatives introduced to lower emissions without charging drivers, some plans look very different today…

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.

READ MORE: Engine idling - why it's so bad and what's being done

Where are they?

London has its own Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is effectively excluded from Clean Air Zone legislation, but other UK cities have been earmarked for similar projects.


The Bath CAZ is expected to launch on 15 March 2021. The type C CAZ will not charge private vehicles to drive through the city centre, but more polluting buses, taxis and heavy goods vehicles will be charged.1 


The Birmingham CAZ is expected to launch on 1 June 2021. The council will charge more polluting cars £8 per day and HGVs £50 a day to drive through roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, but not the Middleway itself.


Bristol City Council is considering two options for a CAZ in the city:

  • Option 1: A CAZ covering a small area of central Bristol – charging more polluting commercial and private vehicles to drive in the zone.
  • Option 2: Would include Option 1 and a larger charging zone for more polluting commercial vehicles only.2 

Plans are in the consultation stage with no confirmation of a start date.


Derby City Council has decided not to go ahead with a CAZ as research shows pollution levels should reach legal limits without one.3 


The proposed charging Clean Air Zone for Leeds has been suspended for the foreseeable future.

Air quality has improved significantly since plans were first announced and the government will no longer support Leeds City Council to introduce the CAZ while pollution stays below the legal limits.4 


Greater Manchester could be covered by a CAZ from spring 2022. Although the most polluting commercial vehicles will be charged, private vehicles should be exempt.5 


Despite becoming the first council to have its air quality plans approved by government, the Nottingham CAZ will not be going ahead.

Research shows pollution levels should reach legal limits without one.6 


Southampton City Council no longer has plans to charge high polluting vehicles to drive in the city. 7 

READ MORE: 11 ways to reduce your driving emissions

Are more coming?

The London ULEZ will be expanded to the North and South Circular roads from October 2021.8 

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.

Clean Air Zone vehicle checker

The Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit have an online vehicle checker to help drivers prepare for Clean Air Zones.

Just enter your vehicle’s registration number and this free tool will tell you if there will be a daily charge to drive your vehicle in a specific Clean Air Zone. More cities will be added as final plans become approved.

To check whether you’ll be charged for driving in the London ULEZ or LEZ, use the TfL vehicle checker instead.


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