The towns that want to control where you can drive

November 02, 2022 by

Local authorities are considering controversial plans to restrict the ability of drivers to use public roads for getting across cities, against a backdrop of schemes across the country that affect when, where and what types of car people can drive without incurring fees.

The most significant programme concerns Oxford, which is considering issuing local residents with permits to make direct trips for up to 100 days a year across different neighbourhoods, with fines of £70 for those who exceed this limit.

The Oxford scheme explained

Under the Oxford Traffic Filters scheme, six ‘filters’ around the city centre would see signs installed indicating that private cars are not allowed to pass through these points. Unauthorised vehicles travelling through these filters will be detected by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, with drivers receiving a fine of £70 if they drive through.

The filters will operate seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, and ban only private cars from crossing them. All other vehicles (buses, taxis, vans, motorcycles, HGVs and emergency service vehicles) would be able to pass the filters without incurring penalties.

Oxford residents will be given 100 day permits each year, allowing them to cross the filters on that number of days without being penalised. A maximum of three sets of 100 permits will be issued to each household, with only one car per person attached to each permit.

Private cars driven by Blue Badge permit holders, as well as carers and healthcare workers, would be exempt from the rules.

The filters essentially split the centre of Oxford into six zones, with non-residents and those who have used up their 100 permits needing to find an alternate route, typically driving to and around the city’s ring road, then driving back into the city centre to their destination, having avoided the filter.

Oxford County Council says this “may result in longer journey times, mainly for trips between Oxford’s suburbs and across the city”, but wants to introduce the filters to reduce congestion and improve journey times for buses, while also encouraging people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

Plans for the filters have been subject to public consultation and a decision about their implementation is due in the summer of 2023, but a local councillor told The Times “It’s going to happen, definitely.” Assuming this turns out to be accurate, the filters will be installed in summer 2023 and run for a trial period of “at least” six months and up to 18 months, with a second consultation taking place during this time.

Oxford Council told carwow that the filters “are designed to reduce traffic, make bus journeys faster and make walking and cycling safer.”

During the trial period the council will “collect information on the effects of the scheme such as changes in traffic levels and bus journey times and also invite residents, businesses and other stakeholders for their views.”

In addition to the proposed traffic filters, Oxford also has a Zero Emission Zone, which was introduced in February 2022 and covers a small number of roads in the city centre; people driving anything other than an electric or hydrogen car through the zone must pay between £2 and £10, with more polluting cars charged subject to higher charges.

Canterbury has similar ideas

Canterbury City Council has plans similar to Oxford’s, albeit with a longer timescale. Under Canterbury’s ‘Local Plan to 2045’, the council has set out a proposal that would divide the city into five districts, with drivers unable to cross from one district to another by private car – even if they live in the city.

Instead, as with Oxford, people wanting to get from one point to another within the city would need to drive out to the ring road, before heading back into the centre of town to reach their desired destination. These plans require a new section of ring road to be built, however, with one councillor saying they “are about 15 to 20 years in the making”, according to Kent Online.

A national backdrop of restrictions

Local authorities have been placing restrictions on drivers for some time now. London’s Congestion Charge zone, introduced in 2003, was the first such scheme in the UK, originally charging drivers £5 if they ventured into the centre of town during peak hours.

Now a £15 levy, the Congestion Charge was joined by London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in 2017. The ULEZ charges drivers of older, more polluting cars an additional £12.50 to drive into its area, and first occupied the same small, central space as the Congestion Charge Zone before expanding in 2021 to take in all locales within the North and South Circular roads. A further ULEZ expansion, taking in almost all areas inside the M25 orbital motorway, is also under consultation for a potential 2023 introduction.

The principles behind the ULEZ – namely that drivers of non Euro 6 diesel cars (generally pre-2015) and non Euro 4 petrol (generally pre-2006) must pay to enter the zone – have already expanded well beyond London’s borders, though.

Clean Air Zones (CAZ) have sprung up across the country using the same Euro emission standards to determine if a car is clean enough to be driven in certain areas without incurring a financial charge.

Birmingham’s £8 CAZ is already operational, with Bristol’s £9 CAZ joining it on 28 November 2022. Glasgow’s CAZ is already charging buses and will apply to non-compliant cars from June 2023, while Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh will start charging motorists to drive in certain areas from 2024.

A number of other cities – including Sheffield, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Bradford – have Clean Air Zones that apply to vehicles other than private cars, with buses, taxis and HGVs subject to charges if they do not meet certain emissions standards.

You can check the boundary of any of the UK’s clean air zones, as well as find out if your vehicle will face charges to enter, using our free clean air zone check.

In addition to these Zero, Ultra Low and Clean Air Zones is a more recent addition of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. These first appeared en masse as a result of a £225 million Government funding put to encourage “active” travel (IE not driving) and have been established for several years, with such schemes seeing residential roads closed to traffic, displacing vehicles onto busier main roads.

Proponents of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods say the schemes prompt “traffic evaporation” as people swap their cars for other modes of transport, but their impact is contentious, with the Department for Transport recently admitting the data against which many had been measured was incorrectly gathered.