City councils advance clean air zones

Other than the 2030 target to ban sale of petrol and diesel cars, there is still need for changes in how we tackle climate change and air pollution. Many cities are taking pre-emptive steps to address emissions with new clean air zones in their centres, restricting cars and imposing charges which affect residents and visitors.

On the 25th of October, the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) in London was enlarged from merely central London to the North and South Circular Road. This means any polluting vehicles in the zone will be charged £12.50 a day. In an area where public transport is much more supported and accessible, the increase in charges will hopefully encourage local drivers to reduce their reliance on private vehicles and look towards the availability of public transport.

Currently, the Birmingham clean air zone (CAZ) is the only scheme outside of London where private drivers must pay a charge to take polluting vehicles into the city centre. It was introduced on June 14th and the charge on polluting vehicles is £8 a day. Both Birmingham and London now not only have low emission zones, but also have scrapping schemes to further reduce private emissions with budgets of £10m in Birmingham and £20m in London.

There has been a drop in nitrogen dioxide levels in Birmingham since the clean air zone was introduced. Before the CAZ was introduced parts of the city centre were at pollution levels of 45-60 micrograms per cubic metre on weekdays, putting residents at increased risk of asthma attacks, irritated airways, and long-term respiratory issues. To stay within legal limits, average pollution levels must be below 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Since Birmingham’s CAZ was introduced in June, NO2 pollution levels have dropped by up to 20 per cent compared to the same period during 2019 and 2020.

It is said that bad air quality is the cause of around 900 deaths a year in the city, so if the CAZ and other implemented schemes continue to improve the air quality, people’s health will improve.

In February next year, Oxford will be joining London and Birmingham with its implementation of a zero emission zone (ZEZ). Unlike London with its 24-hour zone, Oxford’s zone will be enforced between daily between 7:00-19:00 and will have varying charges between £2- £20 a day depending on the emission levels of the vehicle.

Cambridge City Council is currently evaluating a clean air zone within the existing Air Quality Management Area in Cambridge, which includes the historic centre and the inner ring road. They have not yet made a decision on whether the zone will be chargeable or which types of vehicles it will seek to restrict.

In Coventry, £3,000 worth of “mobility credits” have been offered to those who are willing to give up a qualifying vehicle and decrease their dependency on cars for transport. For some people a second car is not necessary, and its maintenance can often cost more than other forms of transport. The credits can be used on a range of alternative travel, including car hire and taxis.

If local governments were to make these projects more widespread, they would also have to increase the accessibility of public transport.
Although some cities have rejected introducing clean air zones, many cities are announcing urgent plans with regard to climate change, aiming to act before it is too late to make impactful change.

Gabriel Sun
December 2021