London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) has been in operation since 2008 to encourage the use of less polluting vehicles and penalise the heaviest polluters. It operates within the Greater London Authority’s boundaries.
During 2022, similar schemes are to come into force in several more Clear Air Zones (CAZ). The government has
issued guidance about Driving in a CAZ and you can check if a vehicle for which you have responsibility will be subject to charges. There are 4 classes ( A to D) of CAZ and the vehicles subject to charges differ according to the classification.
Principles for setting up Clean Air Zones in England are set out in the UK government’s February 2020 publication – Clear Air Zone Framework
Improving air quality has a considerable legal background from the Clean Air Act 1956, through the UK’s membership of the European Union, to the Environment Act 2021. Some of the legal background to CAZ is set out below.
The Transport Act 2000 Part III enables local traffic authorities outside London to introduce road user charges and workplace parking levies to help tackle congestion as part of a local transport plan This is the basis for the charges imposed in CAZ.
Some of the legal background:
Almost 14 years ago, a European Union Directive imposed obligations on EU Members States regarding improvement of ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. Member States were required to provide air quality plans – see
In 2010 the UK government made legislation to implement the Directive domestically –
The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 (legislation.gov.uk) – (the AQS Regulations).
An atmospheric pollutant of particular concern was Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)- a gas formed by combustion at high temperatures. Traffic exhaust and domestic heating are its principal sources in most urban areas in the United Kingdom. A heightened concentration of NO2 in the ambient atmosphere has adverse health consequences ranging from irritation of the eyes, nose and throat to respiratory difficulties and enhanced response to allergens.
The environmental charity ClientEarth brought judicial review proceedings in 2011. The charity sought to impugn draft air quality plans published by the Secretary of State for failure to comply with emission values for nitrogen dioxide set by European Union law.
Their application was refused by Mr Justice Mitting and their appeal dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) in 2021 –
The case proceeded to the Supreme Court which sought preliminary rulings from the Court of Justice of the EU on a number of questions. Finally, in 2015, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the government to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015 –
Post-Brexit, the UK has continued with air quality legislation albeit with some amendments – e.g. The Air Quality (Amendment of Domestic Regulations) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (legislation.gov.uk)
The Environment Act 2021 is aimed at delivering long-term targets to improve air quality and requires Local Authorities to tackle air quality – World-leading Environment Act becomes law – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:
UK government February 2020 – Clear Air Zone Framework – Principles for setting up Clean Air Zones in England.
Birmingham Clean Air Zone – in operation from 1 June 2021
Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone – in operation from 30 May 2022
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