Zoning out

4th July 2019

Web p32 air shutterstock 119692093

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Air ,
  • Recycling ,
  • UK government ,
  • Waste



The lack of consistency between different clean air zones is creating confusion. Dr Sarah Wixey believes a more coordinated approach is needed

In 2015, the government launched its plan to improve air quality in 61 English cities, starting with the introduction of five clean air zones (CAZs) by 2020. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own plans, including the Scottish government's pledge to introduce low emission zones (LEZs) into its four biggest cities by 2020, and other air quality management areas by 2023. A couple of English cities have gone one step further, with Oxford even planning a zero emission zone (ZEZ). London launched the UK's first charging ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), and Hackney Council has ultra-low emission streets, which differ from the ULEZ.

The absolute importance of air quality and the sheer number of cities tasked with reducing pollution prompted the Joint Air Quality Unit in 2017 to produce the Clean Air Zone Framework: Principles for setting up Clean Air Zones in England. It would be natural to assume cities have used this framework to design a consistent approach to their zones and adopt a standard set of clear rules for all vehicle users to follow. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The fact that we have so many different CAZ variations and each is categorised differently creates confusion.

“Instead of a single approach to a national problem, we have a patchwork of initiatives across the UK“

A lack of coherence

Instead of a single, coherent and coordinated approach to a national problem, we now have a patchwork of individual initiatives across the UK. Anyone trying to operate a business, or simply travel from city to city, needs to research in advance what restrictions are in place, when they apply, any exemptions, whether the city operates a charging CAZ, how much it costs to use a non-compliant vehicle, and the process of paying the fine.

The introduction of ULEZ and plans for CAZs in other cities have forced fleet managers to ensure they have the right vehicles operating in the right place at the right time. Lack of consistency means localised plans are frequently put in place. Businesses need to take into consideration whether older vehicles will need to be replaced or moved to areas where restrictions are more lenient (not recommended, as this simply moves pollution to other areas), and whether adopting new working practices could reduce fleet size.

Recycling firm First Mile used to deliver its waste recycling bags to businesses across Central London in a van; it now uses a cargo bike. The company has also significantly invested in its fleet to ensure the heavy goods vehicles it uses for collections are the greenest they can possibly be. CEO Bruce Bratley has admitted that it cost his business £3m to make sure it was ULEZ-ready.

The time has come for the various devolved governments and city authorities to come together and develop a single, consistent, easily understandable regulation to take forward. As it currently stands, the decentralisation of CAZs is somewhat ineffective and potentially detrimental to the improvement of air quality. Any plans should be developed with trade associations that represent the businesses most likely to be affected by any changes. Once identified and agreed, the implementation timescales need to be fixed to allow vehicle owners and businesses to plan their future.

Knowing the fixed implementation timescales will not only help vehicle owners and businesses, but will also provide the motor industry with the certainty it needs to ramp up production of ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles.

Dr Sarah Wixey is associate director at WYG.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Majority of environmental professionals fear green skills gap

Almost three-fifths of UK environmental professionals feel there is a green skills gap across the country’s workforce, or that there will be, a new survey has uncovered.

4th July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Groundbreaking legislation on air and noise pollution and measures to tackle growing concerns over disposable vapes provide the focus for Neil Howe’s environmental legislation update

6th June 2024

Read more

Rivers and waterways across England and Wales are increasingly polluted by sewage spills. What is causing the crisis and what is being done to tackle it? Huw Morris reports

31st May 2024

Read more

Disgraced environmental consultant Peter Lovebrother is another month nearer retirement…

30th May 2024

Read more

Despite cost-of-living concerns, four-fifths of shoppers are willing to pay more for sustainably produced or sourced goods, a global survey has found.

16th May 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close