News story

Improving air quality in cities

The Government announces plans to improve air quality in cities.


Today the Government announced plans to improve air quality in cities whilst minimising the impact on business.

Under these plans Clean Air Zones will be introduced in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. These Zones will not affect private car owners, but will see the most polluting vehicles, like old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries, discouraged from entering the zone through charges.

Delivering on a manifesto commitment to create cleaner air, the plans set out a comprehensive approach by introducing targeted local measures to tackle the most polluting vehicles in a small number of air quality hotspots, alongside national action.

Under government plans no private cars will be charged in these cities and newer vehicles that meet the latest emission standards will not need to pay.

The Clean Air Zones will be targeted at areas of each city where the air quality problem is most serious. These Zones will reduce the pollution in city centres and encourage the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner vehicles. Similar zones in Germany and Denmark have been shown to lead to an improvement in air quality.

They will be introduced by 2020, giving businesses time to prepare for the change in order to minimise the impact.

Following scoping studies, which the Government will provide funding for, Councils will consult on the details on these Zones. Local authorities will only be able to set charges at levels designed to reduce pollution, not to raise additional revenue beyond recovering the costs of the scheme.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:

Our Clean Air Zones are targeted on the largest vehicles, whilst not affecting car owners and minimising the impact on business

We want to ensure people can continue to drive into city centres and by targeting action at the most polluting coaches, taxis, buses and lorries we will encourage the use of cleaner vehicles.

The five cities that will have these zones by 2020 are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. In Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby, these Zones will cover old diesel buses, coaches, taxis and lorries.

Birmingham and Leeds will also discourage the most polluting diesel vans and implement other measures which may include park and ride schemes, signage, changes in road layouts and provision of infrastructure for alternative fuels.

Many companies have already started to update their fleets to modern, cleaner vehicles. For example, by 2017 British Gas will have replaced at least 10% of their commercial fleet with electric vehicles, reducing emissions compared to their old diesel vans. The new electric vans also represent a saving over their diesel counterpart. In London the cost savings could be as high as 20%, with other locations saving between 6-10%.

The Environment Agency, winner of Green Fleet of the Year 2015, has committed to increase the number of ultra-low emission vehicles to more than 100 by the end of 2015.

Another example of businesses modernising their fleet is Reading Buses - 38% of their fleet are ‘ultra-clean’ drastically reducing their emissions. Drivers are also given advice on fuel efficient eco-driving techniques.

Over recent decades, air quality has improved significantly across a range of pollutants. Between 2005 and 2013 emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 38% and particulate matter has reduced by more than 16%. Over the past five years the Government has committed over £2 billion to help bus operators upgrade their fleets, reduce pollution from a range of vehicles such as refuse trucks and fire engines through cutting edge technologies, and promote the development of clean alternative fuels such as powering taxies with Liquid Petroleum Gas in Birmingham.

In London the Mayor has a well-developed strategy for improving air quality by 2025, including the implementation of an ultra-low emission zone by 2020, retro-fitting of buses and licensing new taxis to be zero emission capable from 2018. We will continue to support and monitor the delivery of the Mayor’s plans.

Published 17 December 2015