A low emission zone (LEZ) is an area where only the cleanest vehicles are allowed unrestricted entry, in order to reduce exhaust emissions from road transport and thereby improve local air quality. Non-compliant vehicles entering the LEZ are normally targeted with penalty fines. Low Emission Zones are now relatively common across Europe, where they are also known as Environment Zones.

The UK’s first LEZ was established in London on 4th February 2008. This followed a 2003 study looking at the likely costs and benefits and how it could be implemented. The scheme encourages operators of HGVs, buses, coaches and light goods vehicles to reduce their emissions by either replacing or modifying their older diesel-engine vehicles; those wishing to enter Central London with non-compliant vehicles have to pay a significant daily charge. Several phases have been introduced which have introduced emission controls on new vehicle categories, or stricter controls on existing vehicle types. In the UK a number of local authorities are considering the creation of LEZs as part of their statutory Air Quality Action Plans, required under the Environment Act 1995 to help meet local air quality objectives. Norwich implemented a small LEZ in 2008, which controls bus emissions in a small area around the castle. Oxford are introducing a LEZ which focuses on local bus services in the city centre, this will be operational from January 2014.

Environmental Protection UK’s Cleaner Transport Forum (now closed) looked at this area for several years and carried out research with funding from the BOC Foundation and the Department for Transport, which resulted in the publication of a series of factsheets. These are available from our members area.

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