Commute to work

Leeds to Implement Clean Air Zone in 2020

Leeds City Council have made a bold and impressive move to implement an inner-city Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in January 2020. Mainer Associates have a healthy project base in Leeds and like to keep up-to-date with local policy and changes in sustainability governance. It is a fantastic move by the city and should tackle the critical issue of local air quality and pollution, head on.

Leeds currently has 6 air quality management areas (AQMAs). It is a statutory requirement for local councils to measure air quality within cities and declare AQMAs to national government. These are areas where emission levels are significantly dangerous to health. Local authorities and boroughs monitor air quality on, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and compare measurements to levels set by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Where any measured pollutants breach certain levels, the area is automatically designated as an AQMA.


Why is air quality such a big issue?


Poor air quality has huge implications for society. Implications are environmental, social and economical. Pollution from development and transport in inner city areas increase emissions and directly influence  serious respiratory and health implications such as cardiovascular disease. This in turn creates significant cost and unnecessary strain on the UK’s National Health Service. Furthermore,  a city with a known reputation for bad air pollution and subsequent quality of life will discourage commerce, tourism and investment.

Image from to illustrate how different levels of air quality air considered in relation to health.

Image from to illustrate how different levels of air quality air considered in relation to health.

Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to our health. It can cause and exacerbate many health problems. These include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic heart disease, and,
  • Strokes


Air pollution is also a transboundary and intergenerational problem. Public health England published the following infographic to illustrate the extent of these problems:


The extent of the air pollution problem.

The extent of the air pollution problem.

Do you know the emission levels and air quality of where you live? Or on your commute to work? Providing people with knowledge on air pollution is a great way to engage people to start addressing the issue, especially for something physically intangible in your day-to-day activities. Check out DEFRA’s database to find out emission levels in your local area


Why are Clean Air (Charging) Zones a Correct but Controversial step forward?


CAZs mainly focus on emissions from vehicles and aim to penalise high-polluting transport and restrict their mobility through certain parts of urban areas with poor air quality.

Despite the clear importance of good air quality, CAZs are not always well received from cohorts in the general public. They essentially either prohibit, monetise, and ‘tax’ vehicle movement through certain areas of city or town centres, and are deliberately more strenuous on high-polluting vehicles.

For the CAZ in Leeds, no vehicle will be banned from the zone, but if your vehicle does not meet the emission standards set out by the council you will be subject to a daily charge. You’ll be able to find out whether your vehicle is considered a high-polluter nearer the time when the council have finalised benchmarks.

Boundary map of the proposed clean air zone. Source Leeds City Council.

Boundary map of the proposed clean air zone. Source Leeds City Council.

It will be the biggest CAZ in the country and is a fantastic move from the local council to address a serious and topical issue.


What else can we do?


With air quality being such a pressing and contemporary issue it’s important governments, local councils and the private sector do not purely focus on one method to address the problem. CAZs in cities should implement a mix of initiatives to reduce emissions, from a variety of pollutant sources. Air pollution is a collective responsibility and strategies to address it should not simply be restricted to financial deterrents.

LCC’s fantastic initiative ‘clean air leeds’ are trialling and practising a number of strategies to ensure the cities inhabitants breathe clean air. These are:

  • The council are transitioning their fleet to LEV or ZEV.
  • Investment in upgrades to public transport and cycling infrastructure through the ‘connecting Leeds’ strategy.
  • All 4 major bus companies in Leeds have committed to ensuring their vehicles meet the latest emissions standard by 2020.
  • Pedestrianising more of the city to make use of public transport to get into the city more attractive.
  • Free parking for ULEVs at al council car parks
  • Smart city initiatives – to mitigate stop start driving and idling.
  • Collaboration with the private sector to conduct research into the ability for hybrid vehicles to have automatic switching to electric power when in an area of high pollution – cool!


Interestingly, the new BREEAM 2018 New Construction guidance aims to help developers and the construction industry tackle this issue from another angle. The new guidance requires you to confirm whether developments are located within a low or high pollution location, any development within an AQMA is automatically considered a high pollution location. BREEAM then sets out different emission benchmarks for NOx, VOCs and particulate matter depending on the developments location and the number of credits you want to achieve.