Breathing Easy: Understanding Clean Air Zones 2023

Big changes are coming to how we approach our daily driving routines. The rise of electric vehicles, driven by the ambition of achieving a carbon-neutral future, is one exciting change. However, amidst these noticeable transformations, other changes may not be as apparent, such as Clean Air Zones. If you find yourself catching up to this growing governmental trend, rest assured that you're not alone. Clean air zones can catch you off guard if you're not familiar with their intricacies and regulations, but luckily, we have got you covered. Future-proof your driving lifestyle below with our guide to Clean Air Zones in 2023

What are Clean Air Zones?

It was almost 10 years ago that the UK government responded to the growing demand for improved air quality in major cities. This gave rise to the introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) across the country, acting as areas within cities that charge any vehicles entering if they do not meet a set of emission standards. CAZs and their associated charges affect commercial, private, and public vehicles, and are monitored by a city’s regional authority via cameras. No vehicle is banned from entering a CAZ, but vehicles that pollute more than others will need to pay a daily charge depending on their emissions.

The previously high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air of these cities were traced back to, in part, vehicle emissions, causing major backlash from environmental groups demanding change. Air pollutants have been shown to cause or worsen respiratory difficulties such as asthma and can lead to heart problems. It was even found that in the UK, up to 36,000 deaths occur due to poor air quality annually. Cleaner air within cities, being one of the objectives of CAZs, will create a healthier living environment for residents no matter their age, lifestyle, or health status.

CAZs can be non-charging or charging. As you guessed, non-charging zones focus on improving air quality without demanding payment from polluting vehicles. Charging zones will cause drivers to pay a set fee if their vehicle doesn’t meet the zones minimum emission criteria. A city may have either a Class A, B, C or D Clean Air Zone, where:

  • Class A includes buses, coaches, taxis, and private hire vehicles.
  • Class B includes buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, and heavy goods vehicles.
  • Class C includes buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, and minibuses.
  • Class D includes buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses, and cars, and local authorities have the option to include motorcycles.

What does this mean for you? Driving into a Class B or C zone means that cars are excluded from paying a charge, however, if you drive a minibus or van in a Class C zone, you will be charged. In a Class D zone, cars, along with all the other vehicles listed (bar motorcycles and mopeds depending on location), are subjected to paying the CAZ charge. For most people, it’s the Class D CAZ that you’ll need to look out for, and it can become quite apparent as you enter these zones due to the prominent road signs. Some places, such as Oxford, will ask you to pay a charge if you drive anything but an EV, so again, be on the lookout for local regulations.

Emission Standards

Every vehicle class is marked by a minimum emission standard within the clean air zones. These standards are simple enough and are described below.

  • Buses, coaches, and HGVs must satisfy the Euro VI (NOx and PM) emissions standards. You can check whether your vehicle meets these requirements via the Transport for London page.
  • Vans, minibuses, taxis, private hire vehicles and cars bust abide by the Euro 6 emission standard for diesel variants and Euro 4 for petrol variants. These standards state that:
    • Euro 6 (diesel) is CO: 0.50g/km and NOx: 0.08g/km.
    • Euro 4 (petrol) is CO: 1.0g/km and NOx: 0.08g/km.
  • Motorcycles must abide by Euro 3 emission standards to avoid paying a CAZ charge.
    • Euro 3 (petrol) is CO: 2.3g/km and NOx: 0.15g/km.
    • Euro 3 (diesel) is CO: 0.66g/km and NOx: 0.50g/km.

It’s always advised to check whether your vehicle meets the required minimum emission standards for a particular CAZ, especially for taxis and private hire vehicles. Authorities may have different standards depending on their region. You can find your vehicle's emissions standards on a V5C registration certificate that comes with your vehicle.

You can also check whether your vehicle will need to pay a charge in a CAZ using the UK government vehicle checker tool here.

Paying the Charge: How and Why

The charges laid out by a particular city’s CAZ may differ depending on where you are, although you can easily check the amount online as well as pay the charge too if required. Clean air zones operate 24 hours a day, all year long with no exceptions. Further down this article will be a list of the current CAZ in operation in the UK with their associated charges. Generally, non-emission-compliant vehicles like taxis, cars and private hire will pay £10 per day for driving in the zone, while HGVs, buses and coaches could pay as much as £50 per day (running from midnight to midnight).

You can pay for up to six days before you travel, where on the sixth day the cumulative charge must be paid before midnight. Many zones typically offer a discounted charge if you pay within a certain time limit. The maximum payment you can make in a single transaction is £5000, although failing to pay within the time limit will cause you to get a penalty charge notice (PCN). You can pay online or over the phone via the contact details below:

Clean air zone support

Online contact form

Telephone: 0300 029 8888

Monday to Friday, 8 am to 7 pm (except bank holidays)

Saturday, 8 am to 2 pm

While this may seem rigid or difficult to balance with your lifestyle, there are many ways in which you can use CAZs to your benefit. Public transport discounts and cycle-to-work schemes are being funded in the wake of this charge which can be a favourable lifestyle change for many.

Additionally, switching to an electric vehicle is another subtle push that CAZs are making, allowing EV drivers to benefit from a reduced or non-existent CAZ fee. In support of this push, there exists a government-backed low-emissions grant to discount purchases of EVs.

Electric vehicles benefit from lower road tax, maintenance and more – check out our recent article on the running costs of an EV here. You can additionally browse our electric, hybrid and mild-hybrid range here, all of which are perfectly suited to driving through CAZs and saving you money.

Exemptions and Benefits of CAZs

It’s also worth keeping in mind the range of exemptions and benefits of CAZs since you could very well fall under more than one of these. There are both blanket national and local regional exemptions to CAZs. The national exceptions below apply to everyone, and mean you don’t have to pay a charge if you drive:

  • a military vehicle
  • an emergency vehicle
  • a historic vehicle
  • a vehicle that’s ultra-low emission (such as an EV)
  • a disabled passenger tax class vehicle
  • a disabled tax-class vehicle
  • certain types of agricultural vehicles
  • a vehicle retrofitted by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS)

Beyond gaining cleaner air and a more sustainable environment, CAZs also achieve other objectives. Funds that are gained through the CAZ charge are reinvested into the region to improve air quality control. This includes incentives to help people switch to low-emission vehicles, funding for electric bus infrastructure, and developing hydrogen infrastructure for fuel-cell vehicles. A clear example of this reinvestment can be found in a £1m government grant to discount electric taxi charging, fund home chargers and more.

Clean Air Zone Locations

There are currently fifteen Clean Air Zones within the UK, with more cities expected to join the trend. The majority of these CAZs are Class D, meaning that cars are subjected to paying a charge, but there are still a few CAZs which are Class B or C where there will be no charge for cars. Check out below the zones which are currently in operation, but please be aware that the charges and classes within each zone may be subject to change.

i. Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee (Scotland) – labelled as Low Emission Zones (LEZs), a daily charge of £60 is applied to all vehicles that don’t meet the set emission standards. Active 24/7

ii. Bath - Class C CAZ, a daily charge of £9 for small and £100 for large vehicles required that don’t meet the set emission standards. Active 24/7

iii. Birmingham - Class D, a daily charge of £8 for small vehicles and £50 for large. Active 24/7

iv. Bristol - Class D, a daily charge of £9 for small vehicles and £100 for large. Active 24/7

v. Bradford - Class C, a daily charge of £7 for taxis; £9 for small vehicles; £50 for large 24/7

vi. London – labelled as an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), this Class D zone charges £12.50 for small vehicles, while larger vehicles pay a LEZ charge instead. Active every day except Christmas

vii. Oxford (ZEZ) - Class D, this area is an exception in that a charge of £2 for ultra-low emission vehicles must be paid, while it's £4 for low emission vehicles and £10 for vehicles that don’t meet the set emission standards. Active 7 am-7 pm daily.

viii. Newcastle & Gateshead - Class C, a daily charge of £12.50 for small vehicles and £50 for large. Active 24/7

ix. Portsmouth - Class B, a daily charge of £10 for taxis and £50 for large vehicles must be paid. Active 24/7

x. Sheffield - Class C, a daily charge of £10 for small vehicles and £50 for large must be paid. Active 24/7

xi. Southampton - Class B, this zone is non-charging, meaning all vehicles are exempt in this area. Active 24/7

xii. York - Class A, this zone is non-charging. Active 24/7

More cities will be added as final plans become approved, so be sure to stay up to date here on this page. For example, the Greater Manchester area is currently under review for a CAZ, while Derby and Nottingham concluded that a CAZ was not needed as research showed the pollution levels did not breach the maximum levels for health concerns. LEZs are also found in Brighton and Norwich, although these only apply to buses. Vehicles registered to residential property within certain zones will be required to pay a charge starting from June 2024.

Future-Proof Your Daily Driving with Eden

At Eden, you can find a wide range of vehicles that will not only meet the emission standards of CAZs but also meet your standards of an affordable, enjoyable drive. From award-winning family-sized EVs such as the MG4 to exciting performers like the Vauxhall Corsa Electric, you can explore our range of new cars on finance or approved used cars with ease. Contact our experts today to discuss our latest’s offers, deliveries, emission standards and more.