Air pollution isn’t all caused by vehicles. It may also stem from other forms of transport, industry or buildings.

But local road traffic is the most significant contributor to illegally high air pollution – with diesel the main problem, particularly diesel cars. At the heart of our vision for clean air is the need for the UK to phase out diesel. There are lots of ways of doing this, but one of the most effective ways is through Clean Air Zones (CAZs).

By targeting specific areas, a Clean Air Zones can improve the air quality for everyone. Access to the most-polluting vehicles is restricted, which can involve charging drivers. CAZs have been shown to effectively reduce both emissions and the negative health effects on people in some European cities. Even the UK government’s own theoretical modelling suggests they’re a good thing. Unfortunately not enough has been done to put such theory into practice here.

We’ve tried to answer many of the challenges that Clean Air Zones pose in our Frequently asked questions briefing.


Clean Air Zones can be introduced by any council and enforced using Automatic Number Plate Recognition. If it’s a charging Clean Air Zone then older vehicles below a defined emission standard - Euro 6 diesel and Euro 4 petrol cars - will have to pay the charge. Certain vehicles can be exempted.

The UK government’s plans for Clean Air Zones don’t currently require charging for cars. It’s clear this needs to change given that diesel cars are by far the largest contributor to the problem.

All Clean Air Zones should also:

  • Have signs to clearly delineate the zone
  • Be identified in local strategies and plans
  • Support the take-up of ultra-low-emission vehicles
  • Include a programme of awareness raising and data sharing
  • Include local authorities leading with their own and contractor vehicle operations and procurement
  • Ensure bus, taxi and private-hire vehicle emission standards meet the zone standard
  • Support healthy, active travel – such as walking and cycling.

Local authorities also have the option of introducing bans on certain types of vehicles entering Clean Air Zones at certain (or all) times.


Air pollution is a health issue that affects many of our towns and cities. Although we need action everywhere, pollution is clearly more serious in some places than others.

Clean Air Zones are an important tool but won’t be appropriate everywhere. We recommend you start by working out what’s best for your area. If you need any help with this please get in touch on

Don’t worry if a Clean Air Zone isn’t the answer for your community. There are plenty of other ideas in this guide for tackling air pollution where you live.

Step 1 – How bad is the air pollution problem in your area?

Annex K of the UK government’s Air Quality Plan shows modelled NO2 concentrations for the 81 areas with the worst pollution. So the first thing to do is to check if your council is included.

You can do this by looking at the table on pages 85-87 of Annex K of the Plan (confusingly page 85 is page 90 in the actual document).

If your council is in the table, go to STEP 2
If your council isn’t in the table go to STEP 3b below.


Step 2 – What action has the Government prescribed in its Air Quality Plan?

If you’re in one of the 81 worst-polluted areas, the first column of the table displays the action required by government. This will be one of the following 4 categories:

·         Implement a Clean Air Zone (5 places + London)

·         Produce a Local Action Plan (LAP) (23 places)

·         Not required to produce a feasibility study 46 places)

·         Devolved administration has policy responsibility (7 places)

Go to STEP 3a below to see what could be done in your area.


Step 3a – What action does Friends of the Earth recommend?

The 5 cities required to implement a Clean Air Zone
Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Derby and Southampton are required to have a Clean Air Zone in place by 2020. Public consultations are likely to happen in late 2017 / early 2018.

But this should happen sooner, with the zones in place by the end of 2018, covering all vehicle types including cars.

Greater London
The government doesn’t expect London to meet legal limits on air quality until 2025 – when the Mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will come into being. We believe Londoners shouldn’t have to wait this long. The ULEZ needs to be in force London-wide by 2018, and cover all vehicles including cars.

The 23 places required to produce a Local Action Plan
Councils in these places must submit a draft plan by March 2018 (final versions by end of 2018). They’re required to evaluate alternative measures before a charging Clean Air Zone, and any funding, will be allowed. The government doesn’t expect Clean Air Zones to be in place until 2021.

Properly-funded charging Clean Air Zones must be required to cover these 23 places. Again, they should cover all vehicles, including cars, and be in place by the end of 2018.

Local Action Plans risk being insufficient to deal with the problem. They won’t bring down pollution levels in the shortest time possible. And they won’t reduce exposure to air pollution as quickly as possible.

The 46 places not required to produce a feasibility study
Some towns and cities are already tackling NO2 pollution through Air Quality Management Plans. If you live in one of these places we suggest you contact us on as a charging Clean Air Zone might be an option.

Proceed to STEP 4 to see find out what your council is already doing.



Step 3b – Places not included in the Air Quality Plan

There are many other places currently suffering illegal levels of air pollution where proposed government action isn’t enough. Our guide detailing many of the other actions councils can take to tackle the problem may help – How your local authority can take action to end diesel and cut air pollution.

Please get in touch on if you have any questions about what your council can do.


Step 4 – What is your Local Council already doing?

Most councils are taking some action on air quality, but it varies dramatically.

We recommend looking at your council’s Air Quality page as a first step. You can also see what councils are required to do on Defra’s website:

If your council is required to develop a Clean Air Zone or Local Action Plan you can influence this by getting involved at an early stage. It’s worth finding out as much as possible, for example:

  • When will key decisions be made / voted on?
  • When will public consultations take place?
  • What options are being proposed?
  • What are the views of different political players?

Who’s responsible for tackling air pollution?

In Greater London, the Mayor has overall responsibility for tackling air pollution. But the London Boroughs should also play their part by implementing the Clean Air Zone measures listed above.

Elsewhere, responsibility for air pollution falls to:

·         District councils with a two-tier system e.g. Basildon District Council rather than Essex County Council.

·         Unitary authorities with a single tier system e.g. Sheffield City CounciL.


Different arrangements and powers exist within the six metro mayor areas where mayors chair combined authorities of councils.

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Liverpool City Region
  • Greater Manchester
  • Tees Valley
  • West Midlands
  • West of England

Sheffield City Region will also elect a metro mayor in May 2018.

If you’re within one of these areas please get in touch on so we can share information about any work our regional campaigner team may already be doing on air pollution.

Find out more about metro mayors at