Have you got a question for Business Breathes? Below are the answers to a list of questions we often get asked.

For cars and vans, Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) are typically defined as vehicles that emit less than 75 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every km travelled. They include battery electric vehicles, range extended electric vehicles (electric vehicles with a small petrol/diesel engine), hydrogen vehicles and certain plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Despite being defined by CO2 emissions, these vehicles also present the best option for reducing the harmful emissions that cause air pollution – nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter. ULEVs provide a more long-term and effective contribution to solving poor air quality than vehicles running on fossil fuels such as diesel or petrol. 

For heavy goods vehicles, natural gas offers some CO2 emission savings, and biomethane (the biomass derived version of natural gas) offers substantial CO2 emission savings. However, there is not yet an official definition of a ULEV for the case of trucks. 

To avoid confusion, the term ULEV is not used on this website, instead alternatives to petrol and diesel vehicles are called “Low Emission Vehicles”. Models available on the market and key features are detailed in a dedicated section.

A Clean Air Zone is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality, specifically as a consequence of pollution from road vehicles. Clean Air Zones aim to reduce all types of air pollution, most notably nitrogen dioxide and tiny airborne particles known as particulate matter, so that people breathe in less of all these pollutants. Within a Clean Air Zone, there is also a focus on reducing carbon emissions and making sure that improvements in air quality are long lasting. Pollution should not be increased by growth in population, new buildings or changes in land use.

Research by the UK government identifies Clean Air Zones (CAZ) as the most effective way of meeting air quality targets. However, it’s important to tackle poor air quality in as many ways as possible, which is why the CAZ is only one of several steps Birmingham City Council is taking. They are also:

  • Building public charge points for electric vehicles
  • Creating Controlled Parking Zones
  • Linking air quality monitoring with traffic management systems 
  • Investing in public transport, including new SPRINT rapid bus routes, extensions to the metro network, and low emissions public transport e.g. hydrogen buses 
  • Developing new and improved cycling routes

Although the Clean Air Zone would only set standards for the vehicles travelling into the zone, it is anticipated that it will have an impact on the wider fleet and will also shifts some trips to other more sustainable forms of transport. 

It is also anticipated that there will be a significant number of drivers upgrading their vehicles in response to the CAZ who will therefore be able to drive in the zone without incurring a charge. As a result, there is not expected to be a substantial increase in the level of traffic in areas that line the perimeter of the zone, and modelling does not suggest that air quality will worsen in these peripheral locations.

Birmingham City Council applied for Government funds and has been allocated £14.2 million from the Implementation Fund for the delivery of signs, cameras and other infrastructure, and £38 million from the Clean Air Fund to pay for a support package that will help businesses and individuals likely to be impacted by the introduction of a CAZ. You can read more about this here. 

The cheapest and most convenient way to charge a plug-in electric vehicle is overnight at home. A domestic charge point typically costs around £1,000 to install. £500 of government grant funding can be applied for to help cover these costs. A number of energy providers have set up tariffs specifically aimed at people who need to charge their electric vehicle at home. These make use of the cheaper off-peak electricity available through the night and offer charging costs that work out cheaper than filling up a conventional vehicle with petrol or diesel. There is also a public charging network which can be used by anyone driving a plug-in vehicle, and the number of workplace charge points is increasing, partly due to the government’s Workplace Charging Scheme. This funding scheme covers 75% of the cost of up to 20 charge points per company (capped at £500 per charge point).

A vehicle with a Euro 6/VI diesel engine or Euro 4 to Euro 6 petrol engine would avoid any Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charges and has relatively low pollutant emissions. However, low emission vehicles such as battery electric and hydrogen vehicles have significantly lower CO2 emissions and would do more to improve air quality in Birmingham, as well as avoiding the CAZ payments. These vehicles are also cheaper to run and can offer impressive cost savings over the lifetime of the vehicle.

Government grants are available for people who want to buy certain low emission vehicles. You can receive up to £3,500 for cars that either:

  • Run solely on electricity
  • Run solely on hydrogen
  • Have CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and can travel at least 70 miles without any emissions at all

You can also receive up to £8,000 for vans that either:

  • Run solely on electricity
  • Have CO2 emissions of less than 75g/km and can travel at least 10 miles without any emissions at all

The grants help to make the cost of buying low emission vehicles comparable with conventional vehicles. In October 2018 the Government reduced the maximum grant for electric cars by £1,000. It is expected that as sales increase and the purchase price of low emission vehicles decreases, the size of the grants will be reduced further. 

Approved vehicle manufacturer dealerships will typically have a franchise agreement that requires them to be able to service and maintain the electric vehicles they sell. This means that you won’t have a problem keeping your vehicle on the road and in good working order.

No. For electric vehicles the cost of routine annual maintenance is actually lower than for diesel or petrol vehicles. The motor is simpler than a conventional engine and so it’s easier to service, and there is less wear and tear on expensive components, such as the brakes. On top of this you no longer need to pay for things like oil changes, replacement spark plugs, air filters etc. Research has shown that the maintenance cost over 3 years (and 60,000 miles) is on average 23% lower for an electric car than an equivalent petrol car.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas produced by burning fossil fuels. One of the biggest sources of NO2 is diesel used as a fuel in vehicle engines. It can cause breathing problems and also lung damage if you are exposed to it for long periods. In particular, it affects children and people with existing breathing problems, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of airborne liquids and solids that are too small for us to see.

The type of particulate matter that concerns us most in Birmingham comes from road transport. It’s made up of a combination of partially burned fuel – petrol or diesel – together with engine lubricants, tiny specks from worn tyres and brakes and from road dust. 

The very smallest particles are able to pass directly into the bloodstream. 

There is medical evidence that both short and long-term exposure can cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness and even death. People who have existing lung or heart disease are most at risk together with children and older people, although ultimately air pollution affects us all. 

Any car, van or truck sold in Europe must have its engine tested to check that it meets the latest Euro emission standard. The European emission standards define the acceptable levels of exhaust emissions for pollutants such as Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Carbon Monoxide (CO). They started in 1992 with Euro 1 and have been getting progressively stricter. The current emission standard for new cars and vans is Euro 6 (introduced in 2014), and Euro VI for heavy duty vehicles, including buses and lorries (introduced in 2015). 

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone will be a class D zone, charging non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), light goods vehicles (LGVs) and private cars.

Clean Air Zone charges are based on the type of vehicle and what sort of engine it has. Engines can be sorted by fuel type (for example, petrol, diesel or electric) and by Euro standard, which defines how much pollution the engine may emit. The higher the Euro number, the cleaner the engine.

To avoid paying a charge to drive in the Clean Air Zone, your vehicle must meet the following fuel dependent criteria:

  • Diesel – Euro 6 (VI) standard or better (most new registrations after 1 September 2015)
  • Petrol or LPG added to original petrol engine – Euro 4 standard or better (most new registrations after 1 January 2006)
  • Gas – Euro 6 (VI) standard or better 
  • Fully electric or hydrogen fuel cell – all are compliant and avoid CAZ charges
  • Hybrid electric – the diesel/petrol engine must meet the relevant criteria above
If your vehicle does not meet the criteria above, you might be able to make it compliant by fitting a retrofit technology. This must be approved by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS).

Mopeds/motorcycles will not be charged for entering the CAZ.

Here are some specialist vehicles whose engines cannot be upgraded, so will not be charged to enter the Clean Air Zone, regardless of their engine type:

  • Specialist public sector emergency vehicles (ambulance, fire and police; application process to be defined)
  • Historic vehicles – these are the ones that are 40 years old or over, registered as such with the DVLA.
  • Military vehicles (Ministry of Defence vehicles, recorded on national database, such as tanks, not including staff’s cars)
  • Show vehicles (application process to be defined)
  • Disabled adapted vehicles – vehicles registered as such with the DVLA i.e. Blue badge holders are not exempted.

Birmingham City Council will offer exemptions from the CAZ charges for a few select groups of people – see here.

There are several ways you will be able to pay the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charge including online and by phone. You will only have to pay the charge once per day, no matter how many times you leave and re-enter the CAZ. 

More details on the Clean Air Zone payment system will be released as they are confirmed. 

Electric vehicles (and other low emission vehicles) have several benefits:

  • Reduce air pollution that is harmful to our health
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (like CO2) that cause climate change
  • Reduce fossil fuel consumption and help provide a more secure, long-term energy supply
  • Cheaper running costs for drivers

Business Breathes is focussed on improving air quality in Birmingham by encouraging the uptake of low emission vehicles, which in turn also helps to deliver the other benefits above. This initiative will therefore help achieve the city’s target of reducing CO2 emissions per person by 60% from 1990 to 2027. The push towards low emission vehicles will be part of a wider approach that includes increased local renewable energy, cleaner ways of heating the city and more investment in building energy efficiency programmes. 

Drivers of non-compliant vehicles who drive in the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will be responsible for paying the CAZ charge – they will not be sent a bill.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology will be used to identify which vehicles enter the Clean Air Zone and from this their Euro standards will be checked against a national database, as well as a local database of exemptions. Vehicles that are not CAZ compliant and not exempt will be identified and, if the CAZ charge is not paid, a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) of up to £120 will be issued to the registered keeper of the vehicle, to be paid in addition to the CAZ charge.

The ANPR technology will be used within the CAZ as well as on the perimeter. This will ensure that non-compliant vehicles are charged for every day that they are within the zone and are not able to evade charges because by not leaving and re-entering the CAZ. 

Income from the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charges and any Penalty Charge Notices will first be used to cover the costs of running the CAZ.

After that, any leftover money will be spent on things which will further improve Birmingham’s air quality, such as improvements to public transport, cycling and walking, and support for businesses and individuals.

As well as Birmingham, a Clean Air Zone is being introduced in Leeds. More information on the can be found on this here. Birmingham City Council continue to work with the Government and other cities to clarify whether in future there will be combined charge payments where fleet vehicles need to operate within more than one city per day.

To avoid paying to drive in the Clean Air Zone your vehicle will need to meet certain criteria, depending on the fuel type:

  • Diesel – Euro 6 (VI) standard or better 
  • Petrol or LPG added to original petrol engine – Euro 4 standard or better 
  • Gas – Euro 6 (VI) standard or better 
  • Fully electric or hydrogen fuel cell – all are compliant and avoid CAZ charges
  • Hybrid electric – the diesel/petrol engine must meet the relevant criteria above
If your vehicle does not meet the criteria above, you might be able to make it compliant by fitting a retrofit technology. This must be approved by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS).

A database of all the vehicles registered in the UK and their Euro standards is currently being developed by the Government. This will be able to tell you whether your vehicle will be charged for entering the CAZ, and we will provide a link to it as soon as it is available. 

For now, an initial check of what Euro standard your vehicle is likely to be is the year it was registered. Below are the years different CAZ compliant Euro standards were introduced – if your vehicle was first registered after the relevant date it is likely you will not receive a charge for driving it in the CAZ:

  • Euro 6 diesel cars, taxis and vans (<1,305 kg): September 2015
  • Euro 6 diesel vans (1,305 – 3,500 kg): September 2016
  • Euro 4 petrol cars, taxis and vans (<1,305 kg): January 2006
  • Euro 4 petrol vans (1,305 – 3,500 kg): January 2007 
  • Euro VI diesel HGVs, buses and coaches: January 2014 – however many coach manufacturers had exemptions so would have started Euro VI later.

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