Politicians of all persuasions are united in an aim to clean up the UK and put it on a more sustainable footing.
This has led to the introduction of multiple clean air zones with more on the way. Here, Andrea Easton, Head of Finance and Operations at Walker Movements shares her insight into what you need to know about them.
The basics of clean air zones
Clean air zones are zones where motorists are required to use vehicles that meet certain emissions standards. Non-compliant vehicles may be permitted to enter these zones if they pay a penalty. Alternatively, they may be banned from them completely.
The current default standards in England and Wales are: Vehicle type: Minimum standard
Buses/coaches, HGVs: Euro VIVans, minibuses, taxis, private hire vehicles, cars: Euro 6 (diesel) and Euro 4 (petrol)Motorcycles: Euro 3
The clean air zones initiative forms part of the government’s overall Air Quality Plan. This means that the central government determines the overall criteria for the implementation of clean air zones. The actual implementation of them, however, is devolved to local authorities. This means that there is a patchwork of different administrative requirements throughout the UK.
An overview of the UK’s clean air zones
Here is a quick overview of clean air zones in the UK in 2022.
Planned to open in 2022
BradfordBristolNewcastle, Gateshead and North TynesideOxfordSheffield
Information about CAZ in England can be found on the UK government’s website here. The London (U)LEZ scheme has a separate website here.
Planned to open in 2022
Information about CAZ in Scotland can be found on the Scottish government’s website here.
Wales has created a Clean Air Framework. This can be viewed here. As yet, it has not actually implemented any clean air zones. Realistically, however, it seems only a matter of time before Wales has clean air zones. Cardiff and Swansea are obvious candidates for them.
Similarly, Northern Ireland monitors its own air quality. There is lots of information about this on the Northern Ireland Air website here. If Northern Ireland does implement a clean air zone, the likeliest place for it would be Belfast. In that case, it would probably be announced on the local council website here.
Registering for clean air zones
Many of these schemes require drivers to register their vehicles in advance. If a vehicle is not correctly registered it is very likely to be charged the penalty even if it is compliant. You can, of course, try appealing the charge but you may not be successful.
The safest approach, therefore, is to make sure that you both comply with and register for all active clean air zones. Ideally, you should also keep alert to forthcoming clean-air zones. These will probably be announced in the industry press.
Even so, it’s advisable to check the relevant websites yourself to be sure. The same comments apply regarding updates to existing CAZ schemes. These are guaranteed to come over time.
Enforcement of clean air zones
Clean air zones are generally enforced through the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems. This means that there should be seamless efficiency 24/7. In reality, while ANPR is very efficient overall, there are inevitably going to be some glitches. What’s more, the way these systems work, those glitches are likely to mean compliant vehicles being mis flagged.
The reason for this is that these systems are going to need to monitor a high volume of moving traffic at all times of day and in all weather conditions. They are therefore going to misread (or be unable to read) some number plates. The way CAZs work, unless a vehicle is positively identified as compliant, it will be assumed to be non-compliant.
HGV drivers spend a lot more time on the road than most people. This means that they will have their vehicle’s number plate read more often than most people do. This means that there is a higher likelihood that they will trigger an incorrect reading and hence a penalty letter. All HGV operators should, therefore, be alert to these and have a process for dealing with them.
Costs and financing of clean air zones
The cost of non-compliance varies between local authorities. In fact, it’s not out of the question that it might even come to vary within local authority areas. As a rule of thumb, however, sanctions are currently in the region of £60-£100 per day.
Funding has been made available to assist businesses with the cost of adapting to the introduction of clean air zones. Since 2015 to date, the government has provided over £220 million in support. This money was provided to local authorities to be used as they saw best.
Most local authorities have divided the funds between the costs of implementing the necessary infrastructure and supporting businesses impacted by the change. As has regularly been pointed out, however, this money has to be shared between the local authorities themselves and numerous affected businesses.
Clean air zones apply to all vehicles. This means that, potentially, every vehicle owner in the UK could require financial assistance to upgrade. In reality, however, the highest level of need by far is likely to be in the commercial sector. HGV operators, in particular, are likely to face significant costs to upgrade their vehicles.
This means that if CAZs are to be a success, either the government will need to provide more support or customers will need to be prepared to shoulder extra costs. If neither of these happens, then HGV operators will go out of business when the country needs them desperately.
Timelines for clean air zones
Clean air zones look set to be the way of the future. There may, however, still be room for negotiation about how soon that future happens. Much as the government wants to press ahead with its net-zero target, it has to recognize hard facts. Specifically, it has to recognise the current issues in the automotive industry.
Car manufacturers are still trying to get back to business as usual after COVID-19. As a result, there are huge delays in producing both new vehicles and vehicle parts. This means that it simply may not be possible to upgrade/retrofit vehicles at any price.
This may well be the reason why Greater Manchester’s clean air zone has been moved from 30th May (2022) to “as soon as possible and by no later than 2026.”. These logistical challenges, together with the costs involved (and the importance of the HGV industry) may encourage both the government and local authorities to reappraise their plans.
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