What is the Clean Air Zone set to launch in 1 June?

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A Clean air zone sign near Birmingham City Centre

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ for short) is set in place in order to reduce the pollution certain vehicles produce when they travel through or inside a delimited zone. Bath was the first city in England to introduce one last March and Birmingham is set to follow suit on 1 June 2021, after it was postponed by almost a year due to the impact of the pandemic. Other cities are set to follow this year or the next one.

Air pollution is a problem that affects about 2.8 million people in the West Midlands according to the WM-Air programme, reducing life expectancy by 6 months on average.

In a comment posted on Birmingham City Council’s website, the Head of the Clean Air Zone, Stephen Arnold said:

“Birmingham currently has unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide, and we know this has a detrimental effect on the health and life expectancy of our citizens.”

In order to improve the quality of the air we breathe, a CAZ aims to reduce the amount of high polluting vehicles, by charging them a fee (which can vary by city) each day they enter that zone. This is achieved by having people change their vehicle to a cleaner one (e.g. electric vehicles) or encouraging people to use public transports, walk or cycle.

There are four possible types of Clean Air Zones that can be implemented by cities, which are Class A (less restrictive) to D (the most restrictive). Bath choose a Class C, while Birmingham went with the Class D, with motorcycles not included in the charge.

Source: Gov.uk

What is the area affected in Birmingham?

The entire zone inside the A4540 Middleway (which in itself isn’t affected by it) will be the CAZ. On average, that zone represents 2.8 million journeys made by residents; with half of them made using private cars. 250,000 of which are for trips lesser than a mile in the city. Half a million private cars from outside Birmingham enters the city centre each day.

Which vehicles will be affected?

Those not affected by it need to have their car to be in one of the following categories:

  • For diesel engines you need an Euro 6 standard or better, which usually are vehicles from the end of 2015 and onwards.
  • Gas engines are also in the Euro 6 category, while Petrol engines need to have an Euro 4 standard or better (fabricated around 2006 and onwards).
  • If you have an electric or hydrogen fuel cell you won’t have to pay any charges, while hybrid cars the rules will apply according to the Diesel or Petrol rules above.

If you do not know when your car was built or if it might not fall into these categories, you can check it on the government’s dedicated site to CAZ. This will allow you to know if you need to pay when you enter any CAZ in the country.

The fees can vary depending on the CAZ you’re entering and they are separated by types of vehicles. In Birmingham, cars and LGVs that do not comply to the pollution standards will pay a daily fee of £8, while the price for coaches and HGVs will be of £50.

That fee only needs to be paid for each day (from midnight to midnight) and not each time a vehicle enter the zone. Entering the zone late at night and leaving the next day will count as two separate days, even if you stayed less than 24 hours in the CAZ.

This will be of your responsibility to pay that fee and you won’t be alerted if you entered the zone. There are more than 300 signs (see picture above) to alert you that you are near it. ANPR cameras (automatic number plate recognition) will be used to detect vehicles entering the Clean Air Zone that do not meet the emission standards. You’ll have a 13 day window to make the payment, 6 days before and after or the same day you enter the zone.

The payment can be made by either calling the Joint Air Quality Unit National Helpdesk: 0300 029 8888 or via the CAZ dedicated website.

Failing to pay during that time frame, you’ll receive a fine of up to £120, that can be reduced by half if it is paid in less than 14 days.

The City Council has been organising webinars to explain how it will affect people living or working in Birmingham, and they have some programmed through the end of May. If you’re unable to assist to those, you can always view them on their YouTube page.

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