After years of debate and discussions, Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone comes into force today.
The new zone means that cars and other vehicles which do not meet certain emission targets now have to pay to enter a defined ‘zone’ in central Birmingham.
It is encircled by the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, but the Middleway itself is not included in the chargeable area, and is in operation from midnight to midnight, 365 days a year (see map below).
The zone includes key destinations such as Bullring, Colmore Business District, several railway stations, Broad Street and the city’s theatres and live events venues.
The charges, which are thought to affect around a quarter of vehicles entering the city, are as follows – £8 per day for cars, taxis and LGVs (vans) and £50 a day for coaches, buses and HGVs (lorries) – although there are some exemptions in place.
Vehicles with high nitrogen dioxide emissions are being penalised – diesels manufactured before 2015 and petrol cars made before 2006 – but an online tool is available where drivers can check by entering their registration plate.
Birmingham was one five of English cities ordered by the Government in 2015 to address its pollution levels by introducing some kind of charge.
It was supposed to come into force in January 2020 but was hit by delays related to setting up technology systems and more recently by the pandemic.
Proponents of the scheme say its introduction is vital because of Birmingham’s high levels of pollution, said to contribute to around 900 premature deaths a year in the city.
But those opposing the charge fear it will have a damaging effect on sectors such as tourism, hospitality and the night-time economy in general, particularly as someone entering the zone before midnight and leaving afterwards will be charged twice.
Birmingham City Council is offering short-term exemptions and additional help for those struggling to transition to a compliant vehicle such as a scrappage scheme.
Cllr Waseem Zaffar, who has been leading the project for the city council, said the stark reality facing Birmingham was that lives were being lost and the new charge had been delayed too long.
But Michelin-starred chef Glynn Purnell urged city leaders to delay the introduction of the charge to allow hospitality venues more time to recover following the impact of covid lockdowns on the sector.
He said he was supportive of the charge but wanted to see its introduction put back so business could benefit from the run up to Christmas.