Low Emission Zones: what you need to know

Low Emission Zones: what you need to know
As air quality becomes an increasingly political issue, measures are being put in place to discourage more polluting vehicles from entering areas where air quality is poor. 

Low Emission Zones (LEZs) have been identified by the UK government – as part of its air quality plan – as one way that local authorities can reduce harmful emissions in specific areas.

A Low Emission Zone already exists in London and they have also been implemented in many cities across Europe, although many people remain confused about what they mean in practice.

Here, we will tackle the issue head on, explaining everything you need to know about LEZs – from what they are to how they will affect you.

Contents

What is a Low Emission Zone?

Where are England's Low Emission Zones?

The London Low Emission Zone

What is the Ultra Low Emission Zone?

Where are Europe’s Low Emission Zones?

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What is a Low Emission Zone?

Low Emission Zones are schemes that cover specific areas (typically in cities) to tackle pollution and that discourage certain types of vehicles from entering a specified zone.

Typically, this will consist of a charge forthe vehicle should it not reach a minimum standard for emissions to enter this zone. The idea is to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles and thus improve air quality.

Low Emission Zones

LEZs are becoming increasingly popular across Europe.In the UK, the London Low Emission Zone is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive.

LEZs do not actually forbid higher-emission vehicles from entering, but daily charges to enter the zone are enforced – and failure to paymay result in heavy financial penalties.

To find out if your vehicle makes you liable for a charge, read our daily charges section below.

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

Where are England's Low Emission Zones?

There are Low Emission Zones in:

  • London
  • Brighton
  • Norwich
  • Nottingham
  • Oxford

Except for London, these currently only affect local buses, so members of the public do not have to pay to enter them presently..

Many believe that, as inner-city pollution levels worsen, more cities will bring in LEZs that include a wider range of vehicles – including cars.

The government’s air quality plan pledges to ‘be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it’. It has a particular focus on roadside nitrogen oxide (NO2) concentrations, which are linked to cancer and respiratory diseases.

Local authorities can propose and implement LEZs – along with other schemes such as congestion charging – to help reduce NO2. Each authority will have details on its website about the specifications used to implement a Low Emission Zone.

MORE ADVICE: ​Diesel scrappage schemes – a simple guide

Scotland is also looking at bringing in low emission zones, however these will have far stricter standards and will encompass more vehicle types. These will also restrict vehicles from entering certain areas of Scotland’s four largest cities, with penalty charge notices issued for those vehicles entering which do not conform to the scheme’s minimum emission standards. 

The London Low Emission Zone

The London LEZ was introduced in late 2008 and covers most of Greater London, including parts of the M1 and M4 motorways (but not the M25). Unlike the London Congestion Charge, it operates 24 hours a day.

As the London Low Emission Zone is a separate scheme to the London Congestion Charge, drivers of vehicles affected by the London LEZ who enter the central Congestion Charge zone must pay both charges during the daytime on a weekday.

Vehicle owners should check where the boundaries of each zone are before entering London.

Here is a map to show you exactly where the Low Emission Zone covers.

Low Emission Zones

The zone is automatically enforced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, as opposed to barriers or toll booths.

Entry points for the London Low Emission Zone are well marked by clear signage as shown below.

There are additional reminder signs within the zone, too – plus signs before the zone offering diverted routes in case you do not wish to enter.

What vehicles are affected by the London Low Emission Zone?

At the moment, it is only larger vehicles that are affected by the London Low Emission Zone: pre-October 2006 lorries over 3.5 tonnes, coaches over five tonnes, larger vans, minibuses and motorised caravans.

Light 4x4s and pick-ups registered new before 1 January 2002 are also required to pay it.

You can use the Transport for London guide and enter your reg to see if your vehicle is affected and if you will have to pay to enter.

What will it cost me to enter the London Low Emission Zone?

That depends on what you are driving and where you are.

This table should give a clear indication on how much you are likely to pay.

VehicleWeightDaily charge
Larger vans, motorised horseboxes, 4x4 light utility vehicles, pick-ups, other specialist vehicles1.205 tonnes unladen or more£100
Motor caravans, ambulances2.5 - 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight£100
Mini-buses (with more than eight passenger seats)5 tonnes or less gross vehicle weight£100
Lorries, goods vehicles, motor caravans, motorised horseboxes, breakdown and recovery vehicles, snow ploughs, gritters, refuse collection vehicles, road sweepers, concrete mixers, tippers, fire engines, removals lorries, other specialist vehiclesMore than 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight£200
Buses, coaches (with more than eight passenger seats)More than 5 tonnes gross vehicle weight£200

Should you wish to avoid paying the charge altogether, you can have an approved filter fitted – or choose to buy a cleaner vehicle.

The Low Emission Zone operates every day of the year, including weekends and public holidays.

Daily charges should be paid by midnight on the next working day after the first day of travel.

Charging days run from midnight to midnight, so if you were to drive within the LEZ between 23:30 and 01:00 the next day, you would need to pay for two days.

Vehicles parked in the zone but not driving are not subject to  LEZ charges for that day.

What is the Ultra Low Emission Zone?

As inner-city pollution worsens, Low Emission Zones may become a key tool in helping authorities to control emissions without the need for an outright ban on certain vehicles entering city areas.They are predicted to become much more commonplace than today.

An Ultra-Low Emission Zone was due to come into force in London in September 2020, under proposals drawn up by the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

However, current Mayor Sadiq Khan is seeking to bring this forward to 2019 and expand the boundaries of the original ULEZ.

Low Emission Zones

Originally designed for the same area as the Congestion Charge Zone, it is likely the expanded area will cover up to the north and south circular boundaries.

Like the LEZ, the ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, including weekends and public holidays. However, the ULEZ will also impose charges on all vehicle types (including cars) for the first time – and the strictness of the emissions limits means that a large number of cars will potentially be affected by it.

The criteria for cars is Euro 4 emissions-standard compliance for petrol models, meaning cars built after 1 January 2006 will not haveto pay the ULEZ charge.

For diesels, the criteria is much stricter: Euro 6 compliance is necessary, meaning only cars registered from 1 September 2015 will be exempt from paying. The daily charge if cars don’t meet the criteria is £12.50.

MORE INFO: Find out what Euro Emission Standard your car is with this table

Penalty Charge Notices will be high: car owners who don’t pay the daily ULEZ charge will be subject to a £130 fine (reduced to £65 if paid within 14 days). For HGVs, coaches and buses, it will be £1,000 (£500 if paid within 14 days).

A separate T-Charge is in operation in London from October 23 2017.

Where are Europe’s Low Emission Zones?

Fifteen European countries operate LEZs, with more than 200 cities and towns having schemes in place.

The list is likely to grow over time, so if you’re planning a trip abroad this summer, we advise using this useful site to check if the area you’re driving in has a Low Emission Zone in place. It offers all the advice and information you need.

An LEZ in Europe, just like in the UK, means certain vehicles will be restricted from driving into these areas, which are usually well marked out by signs.

In Germany, LEZs are called Umweltzone and there are 75 schemes in operation, in both major cities and smaller towns.

For more advice on driving in Germany and German LEZs visit our driving in Germany guide.

They are also commonplace in Italy, with more than 100 schemes covering cities, countries and whole regions (for example, the whole of Lombardia).

Three cities in the Netherlands now have car and van LEZs, in addition to schemes affecting only lorries.

Sweden, Austria, Finland and Denmark operate LEZs for larger heavy goods vehicles. Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Norway, Portugal and Spain all have at least one LEZ that affects, or will soon affect, cars too.

Many towns and cities also have traffic restrictions. For example, more than 200 Italian cities have areas where traffic is very restricted, often to residents only, called ‘ZTLs’ (Zona a traffico limitato). These regularly result in expensive fines.  Find out where ZTLs are and how to avoid the fines here.

READ NEXT: Find out more about France's LEZs in our driving in France guide