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Will clean air zones help improve public health in the UK?

Will clean air zones help improve public health in the UK?

"The government has revealed five UK cities that plan to have a clean air zone by 2020, including Birmingham, Southampton and Leeds"

The UK government has been working to reduce carbon emissions over the past decade. In 2017, the city Oxford announced plans to implement a clean air zone in areas with the highest traffic congestion. They aim to ban all petrol and diesel cars from the city centre area by 2020. This suggests the UK are serious about rolling out their plans to ban the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 in an attempt to clean up the UK’s air quality.

Oxford isn’t the only city looking to introduce clear air zones either. The government has revealed five UK cities that plan to have a clean air zone by 2020, including Birmingham, Southampton and Leeds. Grange vehicles, retailers of  used Lamborghini, have looked into the future of clean air zones in the UK and whether they will be effective in reducing carbon emissions:

Clean Air Zones (CAZ)

According to the government, a Clean Air Zone is “an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality and resources are prioritised and coordinated in order to shape the urban environment in a way that delivers improved health benefits and supports economic growth”.

By implementing these ‘clean zones’ across some of the most polluted regions in the UK, access restrictions aim to encourage cleaner vehicles on the roads. High polluting vehicles such as busses, HGVs and taxis will be faced with a charge for entering these zones – however, private cars will not be affected by these charges yet. Fully electric vehicles and vehicles which meet the definition of an ultra-low emission vehicles will be exempt from paying entering charges. However, other vehicles are separated into different classes, and charges will depend on which class they fall into. It is expected that the restrictions will be rolled out across all vehicles that emit harmful emission in the future. However, the Government want to point out that it is not their aim to penalise drivers who might have been encouraged to buy diesel cars by previous Governments.

Where are the Clean Air Zones going to be located?

Areas across the UK that have the poorest air quality are amongst the first regions which will be expected to implement clean zones – these areas include Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby. Each city is expected to introduce the zones and penalties by 2020, in an attempt to bring levels of nitrogen dioxide back down to the legal limit. The zones will most likely be introduced in the city centres, and restrictions can involve entry charges, time-of-day restrictions and/or blanket vehicle bans.

Other cities are interested in tackling their air pollution too, with the likes of Manchester currently investigating the feasibility of introducing a Clean Air Zone onto their roads. The Sunday Times suggests that over 35 urban areas could be included in this plan, whereby both private and public vehicles could be banned on the roads during peak traffic hours in city centres. In some of the most polluted cities, penalty charges, or ‘toxin taxes’ could be as high as £20 a day.

Who will be charged?

When zones are first implemented, fixed charges will not be applied to all zones – charges will in fact be decided by local councils and authorities, meaning they may differ per region. Penalties are not compulsory for city Clean Air Zones either. However, councils which do implement charges have the right to charge additional penalty fines if drivers do not comply with the zone charges.

Vehicles that cause the highest amount of pollution will be amongst the first to be affected by the charges – these include:

·       HGV’s

·       Taxis

·       Busses

Charges have not been finalised yet, but they will be issued depending on which class, or category, your vehicles falls under. Drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles will not be charged at all and private vehicle owners will not be charged initially, however, all vehicles will ultimately be divided into different categories and charged according to which class they fall under. The four classes are: A. B. C and D and have been selected according to vehicle type, emissions and euro standard.

To find out where your vehicle will lie, the government has released a report outlining the Clean Air Zone framework.  

Will the zones help improve public health and lower pollution levels?

Both Germany and London have already implemented clean air zones. Studies in Germany found a significant reduction in particulate matter (small air particles that can get into the lungs causing health problems) levels throughout the zones. Further research found that particulate matter levels had fallen by up to 3% over a five-year period within the zones, compared to just 1% outside.

Studies on the topic are still being carried out, however – some research has shown that airborne pollutants do decrease within the zones, but only at the expense of the surrounding areas. This could be due to drivers choosing alternative routes or driving further than they usually would to avoid incurring charges.

Air pollutant scientist Dr Gary Fuller remains optimistic about the situation, however, stating that air quality will be improved by the use of the new Euro 6 standard for diesel vehicles which will be implemented in London in 2019. The zones are being implemented with the intention of people trading in their used cars for newer, more technologically advanced models. Evidence suggests that Clean Air Zones which have already imposed charges on older vehicle models have already benefited from significantly reduced pollution levels and once the zones become more widespread, standards are likely to improve.