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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Newcastle Clean Air Zone: What you need to know about new pollution tolls before January 30

We are now just over a month away from the much-discussed Clean Air Zone (CAZ) coming into force in Newcastle city centre.

The pollution tolls, which have been years in the making, will mean daily charges of up to £50 for certain vehicles that fall foul of environmental standards.

The final map of a proposed Clean Air Zone in Newcastle city centre.
Image: Newcastle City Council.

But the tolls do not affect everyone and there have been concerns about drivers being left confused over whether they will have to pay, with all private cars being exempt.

And for those who will have to cough up, there is still time to apply for grant money that can help you upgrade to a cleaner vehicle.

Ahead of the CAZ’s big switch-on next month, here is everything you need to know about how to get ready for it.

Who has to pay a toll?

Only some older, more polluting vehicles will be subject to daily fees to drive into Newcastle city centre.

Non-compliant lorries, buses and coaches will be hit with £50-a-day tolls, while the worst polluting vans and taxis will be charged £12.50 per day.

Petrol vans and taxis that meet ‘Euro 4’ standards are exempt, as are ‘Euro 6’ diesels, so it is important to check what class your vehicle is in. All HGVs, buses and coaches must be of ‘Euro 6’ standard to avoid the toll.

Newcastle and Gateshead councils say that, as a general rule, the following vehicles should meet the minimum standard, therefore be exempt from tolls:

  • Taxis – Diesels registered after September 2015, petrol cars registered after 2005;
  • Vans – Diesels registered after September 2016, petrol after January 2006;
  • HGVs, buses and coaches registered after 2014.

I’m not sure if my vehicle is compliant, how do I find out?

You can check if your vehicle is compliant or not by entering your registration number at gov.uk/clean-air-zones.

I’m a car owner – what do I have to do?

Nothing – all private cars are exempt from the CAZ charges. But while this is the case for now, local councils have not ruled out changing the rules in future depending on how successful the scheme is in cutting emissions.

When do the tolls start?

The first set of tolls will begin on January 30, 2023 and will apply only to taxis, private hire vehicles, buses, coaches and HGVs.

What about vans?

Drivers of vans and LGVs have a while longer before their tolls are enforced – and should keep July 2023 pencilled in their calendar. The delay has been allowed due to a national shortage of available vans, making it harder for people to upgrade if they wanted to.

What area does the CAZ cover?

The toll zone is in Newcastle city centre only, including the routes in over the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges – and will be active 24/7.

If you’ve been driving around the area since October, you may have spotted the warning signs posted around its boundaries.

How do I pay my toll and how quickly do I need to pay?

Once the charges begin on January 30, 2023, affected drivers will be able to pay online via the Government website. You will also be able to pay using an online contact form or by calling a hotline on 0300 029 888, open from Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm.

Taxi owners licensed by Newcastle, Gateshead, or North Tyneside councils can also apply for a seven-day permit at a cost of £50, instead of the standard charge of £12.50 per day.

Once the charges launch, drivers will be able to pay up to six days before their journey or six days after. Payments cannot be made before January 30, 2023.

What if I don’t pay the charge on time?

Owners of non-compliant vehicles that do not pay their toll will be issued with a penalty charge notice set at £120, reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days.

How can I apply for an upgrade grant?

You can find full details of the grants available and make an application via the council’s Breathe website.

The following amounts have been agreed for each vehicle type:

  • Taxis, including Hackney carriage and private hire vehicles – up to £3,500;
  • Wheelchair accessible taxis, including Hackney Carriage and private hire vehicles – up to £4,000;
  • Light goods vehicles – up to £4,500;
  • Heavy goods vehicles – up to £16,000;
  • Buses and coaches – up to £16,000.

Anyone who applies for a grant to pay for a vehicle upgrade will also be made exempt from the CAZ tolls for 120 days – and you can ask to have that extended if you can prove that your new vehicle has been ordered but not arrived before that deadline.

Are there any more exemptions, aside from private cars, and do I need to apply for this?

Some vehicles are exempt from all CAZ across the country under national rules, so there is no need to make an application for that. These include:

  • Disabled tax class or disabled passenger tax class;
  • Certain types of agricultural vehicles;
  • Historic vehicles;
  • Military vehicles;
  • Ultra low emission vehicles;
  • Vehicles retrofitted with technology accredited by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS).

But there is also a lengthy list of local exemptions that have been decided on by councils here and most of these do require applications to be made:

  • Non-compliant resident vehicles – This could include vans, taxis and private hire vehicles registered to people who live within the CAZ. This exemption will last for two years and is limited to a maximum of two per resident.
  • Vehicles registered to businesses located within the CAZ – This exemption will last for two years and is limited to a maximum of two per company.
  • Emergency vehicles – Including fire engines, ambulances and police vans.Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Agricultural or similar vehicles – For example, tractors, snow ploughs, gritters, and road rollers. Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Showmen’s Guild vehicles –  For example, rigid lorries, caravans based on a twin axle, and living vans. Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Non-commercial vintage buses – Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Motor caravans – Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Bus and HGV training vehicles – Typically this exemption would be a permanent one.
  • Vehicles awaiting retrofit or replacement vehicle – This exemption will be for one-year from the retrofit or replacement vehicle order, or when work is completed or the new vehicle is supplied (whichever is earliest).
  • Financed vehicles (Private Hire vehicles and Taxis) – This exemption will last until the date of the last finance payment or two years from the start date of the Clean Air Zone (whichever is earliest). These exemptions are limited to a maximum of two per company.
  • Community transport vehicles, such as minibuses – This exemption will last for one year from the start of the Clean Air Zone.
  • Wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles – This exemption will last for two years from the start of the Clean Air Zone.
  • Emergency Rail Replacement Vehicles – These exemptions are variable, short-term exemptions which will only be available when the work is unplanned due to an unforeseen emergency.
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