City ‘clean air zones’ proposed

The Government is proposing a new framework of ‘clean air zones’ in England as part of its ongoing plans to tackle air pollution following legal pressure from the EU.

The zones, which will restrict access for certain vehicles and incentivize public transport and electric vehicle use, form a key part of new proposals to improve air quality by reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

The proposals follow a landmark ruling by the European Supreme Court in May 2015 that requires UK ministers to put stricter air pollution plans in place by December 2015, with much of the UK still exceeding legal air quality limits.

Of the UK’s 43 air quality zones, 38 have failed to meet NOx limits stipulated by the EU and are unlikely to do so before 2020. This includes Greater Manchester, Merseyside and much of Lancashire.

Diesel restrictions

The new proposals focus mainly on transport, which is responsible for around 80 per cent of NOx emissions in the areas exceeding legal limits. As the biggest polluters, diesel vehicles are likely to be particularly affected. 

The proposed Clean Air Zones framework will set unified emissions standards for vehicles. Those not meeting the standard will be subject to a charge or access restriction appropriate to the type of vehicle.

The proposed NOx standards are 0.08g/km for cars, 0.125g/km for vans and 0.4g/kWh for HGVs.

Unified approach

A number of local authorities across the UK have already implemented clean air zones, but the new plans will ensure a unified approach to make it easier for businesses that operate across a number of cities to make straightforward operational decisions.

Speaking after the Supreme Court ruling in May, Ellie Watson, an environmental lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said the Government’s forthcoming changes represented a positive opportunity for businesses to invest in new vehicles and improve logistics strategies.

“This will inevitably mean more stringent regulation, but savvy firms will translate investment into low emission vehicle fleets and ramped up green travel policies into cost savings and PR benefit”, she said.

Next steps

The Government is now consulting on its proposals and will submit final plans to the European Commission by the end of the year before publishing a full framework plan in early 2016.

Draft plans for local areas are available here.

Posted under General Interest on 21 September 2015