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UK low emissions zones: what are they and where are they?

A low emissions zone, often referred to as a LEZ or sometimes CAZ (clean air zone), is an area that a council will have defined to limit certain types of vehicles driving through them in a bid to cut harmful pollutants from the air. Though more commonly known for being deployed in London as the LEZ and ULEZ, more cities in the UK are beginning to adopt low emissions zones.

Why are low emissions zones being introduced?

There are a number of reasons that councils across the country are introducing low emissions zones. Key to the theory of many is that by restricting certain vehicles, or commanding a charge from them when entering these zones, that many drivers will opt for another form of transport or switch to lower-emitting vehicles like electric cars or plug-in hybrids.

Vehicles limited are primarily older diesel and petrol-powered taxis, vans and LGVs though cars are being targeted in some areas too.

Where are low emissions zones in the UK?

London

London has two zones designed to restrict the entrance of high-emitting vehicles. The first is the Low Emission Zone, which covers the majority of the capital, while the Ultra Low Emissions Zone has stricter regulations and covers the same area as the Congestion Charge. This will expand further in October 2021.

Glasgow

Glasgow city centre was the first area in Scotland to have a low emission zone introduced, and came into effect on December 31 2018. Two phases form part of the plans, with the first having covered local buses. The second will see all vehicles needing to meet certain emissions standards to be able to enter the zone, and will be introduced in 2023.

Bath

Bath will launch its Clean Air Zone on March 15 2021. It doesn’t yet affect private cars and motorbikes, so you shouldn’t have to pay a fee if you’re driving around in your own car, though business-use vehicles like taxis and HGVs will have to pay a fee if they don’t meet certain emissions standards. These are pre-Euro 6 (introduced September 2015) for diesel vehicles, and pre-Euro 4 (introduced September 2009) for petrol.

Birmingham

Set to come into force from June 2021, Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone covers all roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road — though not the Middleway itself. Unlike Bath, this will cover private vehicles as well and non-compliant cars will be subject to a daily charge for entering the zone and will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It had been planned to be introduced in 2020, though the Covid-19 crisis set that back.

Which UK cities have plans for low emissions zones in the future?

Manchester

A proposal has been made for a Clean Air Zone across Greater Manchester, with a plan to introduce it in Spring 2022. Similarly to the upcoming Bath zone, private cars will be exempt though older diesel and petrol taxis, vans and other large vehicles will be charged for entering the zone if they do not meet emissions standards.

Aberdeen

Though not yet set in stone, a proposal for a low emissions zone has been made by Aberdeen City Council. Eight options have been suggested, with those currently under analysis following consultations with the public and stakeholders. No word yet on when such a zone would come into effect, but the Scottish Government aims to introduce a number of zones across the country by May 2022.

Dundee

Similarly to Aberdeen, Dundee City Council has proposed the idea of a low emissions zone, though nothing has been finalised yet. Again, it would be introduced before May 2022 if plans go through.

Edinburgh

Sensing a bit of a theme here? Edinburgh is another Scottish city with yet-to-be-finalised plans for its own low emissions zone. Its city council has looked at options from limiting HGVs to applying charges to all vehicles entering the zone, though nothing has been confirmed. Much like Aberdeen and Dundee, it will be introduced before May 2022.

Newcastle

Newcastle City Council had planned to introduce a Clean Air Zone in the city centre in January 2021, though it has now been delayed. No official word on when exactly it will be introduced, however, it’s likely to be before the end of 2021. Private cars will be exempt from a charge, though some older vans and taxis will be charged £12.50 to enter it.

Sheffield

Like other proposals, Sheffield’s Clean Air Zone won’t affect private vehicles for the time being — though older taxis, vans and large vehicles will be subject to a charge for entering the zone. LGVs and taxis will have to pay £10 a day, with coaches, buses and HGVs subject to a £50 fee. It’s planned for sometime in 2021, though nothing is official yet.

What cars are low emission zone exempt?

Though many of the UK’s zones aren’t yet impacting private cars, it’s possible they will in the future. Cars exempt from London’s existing zones include electric cars and low-emitting plug-in hybrid vehicles, and it’s likely any future changes to other schemes across the country would follow suit.

Fancy preparing yourself? Take a look at the best ULEZ exempt cars to find your next low-emitting car.