The council initiative aims to improve air quality in the city centre and discourage drivers – particularly those in high-polluting vehicles – from entering the heart of Birmingham.
However, that has now come to an end, meaning charges will now be enforced.
Every road inside the A4540 Middleway ring road is included.
The Middleway, which encircles Birmingham city centre, is not included, but the A38 and its tunnels are, along with areas such as New Street, Digbeth, Lee Bank and Ladywood.
Affected postcodes include B1, B10, B12, B15, B16, B18, B19, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7 and B9.
More than 300 signs have been put up around the area to tell motorists when they are entering the zone, while 67 Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras will read registration plates of vehicles entering and leaving.
Those with high-polluting vehicles will have to pay due to the higher levels of nitrogen dioxide emitted.
That includes anyone with diesel vehicles built before 2015 and petrol models built prior to 2006, along with electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid electric vehicles.
The charges are:
Cars, taxis and vans – £8
Buses, coaches and HGVs – £50
The fees renew at midnight each day (so if someone enters the zone at 11.50pm and leave 20 minutes later at 12.10am, they will have to pay for two days). However, motorists can enter the zone as many times as they like each day, and not have to pay for each journey.
There is no discount for entering each day, meaning a car driver could pay up to £40 per five-day working week, while lorry drivers could face a £250 bill over the same period.
The charges operate seven days a week, 365 days a year.
It will be the driver’s responsibility to pay as alerts will not be sent out (the only warning is from roadside signs).
Motorists can pay on the Government clean air zone website or by calling the Government’s clean air zone team on 03000 298888.
Drivers have a 13-day payment window; six days before travel, on the day, or six days after.
Anyone who doesn’t pay within that time frame faces a £120 fine, which will be reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days of it arriving in the post.
Money raised will go towards funding sustainable transport measures, such as walking and cycling routes and public transport.
Emergency and armed forces vehicles won’t have to pay, along with some commercial vehicles operating at businesses within the zone. City centre firms can also apply for temporary permits for a maximum of two vehicles.
Some residents inside the zone, or commuters travelling in, can apply for a temporary exemption and/or financial incentives if they earn under £30,000 a year.
Automated braking systems would be required, but only on the heaviest trucks. Railroads would have to develop programs to address employee fatigue, but not the trucking industry. There is no requirement to install devices to limit a truck’s speed.
If you’re looking for a town to enjoy a splendid walk and a locally-sourced latte then you’ll struggle to find a better spot than Usk.
In fact if you go by the Sunday Times’ Best Place to Live guide you won’t find a better spot in the whole of Wales than the quaint Monmouthshire town.
There is a farmers’ market and plenty of independent shops and galleries as well as cafes vying to produce the best fare using local produce. And there’s nothing like enjoying all that goodness in the glorious afternoon sunshine while a 34-tonne articulated lorry chugs down the pavement towards you. Right?
Sometimes you might even get a clout around the ear while you’re walking down the town’s Bridge Street or while taking in the view from the bridge over the river.
“I have been hit multiple times,” said Kathryn Challenger, who has lived in the area all her life – moving from house to house in the same street. “But it gets worse – they come straight over the bridge here and crash into the walls,” she explains from her home directly opposite the bridge. “It’s dangerous and can be quite scary.”
We wait for what feels like five minutes to cross the road at the end of the bridge while two 30-tonne lorries carrying chickens pass by as well as three other equally large vehicles. As they pass the traffic comes to a standstill while the lorries try not to hit each other, the sides of the bridge, and even people’s homes.
Kathryn points: “Look at this one. There are chickens in there. Just a couple of weeks ago one like that went straight into the wall. Sometimes they don’t even realise they’ve done it. But imagine if someone had been walking there.”
The town actually has a ban on lorries coming through that weigh more than 7.5 tonnes – brought in more than 40 years ago after protests over environmental concerns, but issues remain – and residents believe it is due to poor enforcement. Difficulties pinpointing banned vehicles arise because some lorries that are over the weight limit are allowed through Usk to deliver goods.
“Some of them that do come over are ridiculous,” Kathryn added. “I think half of them aren’t allowed to be here – but what can we do?”
There are alternative routes. Lorry drivers could get off at the A449 at Raglan and travel via the A40 or head to the Coldra roundabout.
Residents pointed out that earlier in the pandemic when temporary traffic lights were used at the town’s main Bridge Street road to help social distancing on the narrow pavements – causing traffic pile-ups – considerably fewer lorries used the town as a “rat run”.
Liam Ellis, who drives a 34-tonne truck from Raglan transporting straw to farmers, said he is allowed to travel through Usk, but regularly receives abuse when he reaches Bridge Street – with some motorists refusing to move out of his way in protest.
“It’s not pleasant at all,” he said. “Sometimes I find myself waiting to be shouted at. There is clearly a problem because we’re allowed to drive through there but Usk is an absolute nightmare to drive through. But for me it’s the only logical route to get to my customers.
“A solution could be a separate foot bridge adjacent to the existing bridge so the road at the bridge can be widened for vehicles and people aren’t walking across there. I know it can’t carry on like this. Something needs to be done but I don’t know what the best solution is.”
What are the biggest issues in your area? Check out what people are flagging up and report your own using this handy tool:
There are regular instances of lorries meeting at particularly narrow points in the road before incidents of road rage inevitably ensue. Lorries have also been entangled in scaffolding while resident Angela Colclough said she has seen vehicles “destroy hanging baskets” from the front of people’s homes.
“It’s ridiculous really and it can get you down at times,” she said. “Slowing the vehicles down might discourage them. Perhaps we could do with some speed bumps. The clear answer is another road around the town but I don’t think that will happen now. Why don’t they fine them heavily? If there is no punishment for banned lorries it’ll keep happening.”
Gwent Police said they would only be able to issue fines if they caught a vehicle going across a limit-restricted bridge and then took the vehicle to a weighbridge to find out how much it was over the restriction.
A group of residents and councillors set up a ‘lorry watch’ scheme intended to report banned vehicles to Monmouthshire County Council’s trading standards team but they said they’ve had minimal success in getting banned vehicles punished and have turned attention to “discouraging rather than preventing”.
Councillor Alec Leathwood, who helps run the scheme and was one of the first to get the weight limit introduced in the town more than 40 years ago, said: “I remember lying in the road in protest all those years ago. We’ve been battling for a long time but we’re still stuck with it.
“We had quite a few volunteers but people got fed up because vehicles were being reported and then not much was getting done. We’ve now accepted that there seems to be no way to keep heavy-goods vehicles out but we can discourage them.
“We try to do that by being visible while identifying vehicles that have no right to be here and by campaigning for changes to the road to make drivers aware they’re coming into a very different area. We could also do with better signage so lorry drivers know what the restrictions are well before they get to Usk – not when it’s too late.
“We just hope there isn’t a major incident. Fortunately, so far, we’ve got away with it.”
A spokesman for Monmouthshire council said: “There is advanced warning of the weight restriction on the A466 and A4042 so we would anticipate the majority of HGVs travelling through the town would have a requirement to do so – or are contravening the restriction in the full knowledge of their actions.”
Martin Sholl, the joint owner of Number 49 tea room in Bridge Street, said he’s noticed HGV traffic increasing significantly in recent weeks as lockdown restrictions eased. Authorised lorries that are above the weight limit deliver to the business but he said a balance needs to be struck.
“[Bridge Street] is back to being full again and the challenge we have is when two meet and the wing mirrors are well over the pavement either side,” he said. “It doesn’t just cause traffic issues – we’ve had people hit by them. The issue is this road is used as a thoroughfare and that is unlikely to change until there is better enforcement.”
He said he “isn’t convinced” the majority of lorries that pass through are authorised. “Many vehicles that come through from Blackwood don’t stop in Usk – they use it as a shortcut to the M50,” he added. “I’ve taken photos of some lorries and you just think to yourself: ‘My goodness, you should not be here’.”
Lynne Morgan at Bunnings of Usk builders’ merchants said: “I don’t think there was any point in the [weight limit] ban in the first place. We need the deliveries and I can’t see a solution that pleases everyone.”
A road safety campaigner has dedicated her MBE to the memory of her eight-year-old son who died in a crash on a smart motorway.
Meera Naran’s son Dev was killed in May 2018 after a lorry hit his grandfather’s car on the hard shoulder of the M6 which was being used by moving traffic.
Since his death, Ms Naran, who is from Leicester, has dedicated her time to improving the smart motorway system and played a key role in the government’s new 18-point safety plan.
The freshest exclusives and sharpest analysis, curated for your inbox
She also helped with updates to the Highway Code around motorway driving and successfully lobbied the government for a £5million road education campaign – the first phase of which has been rolled out.
Her MBE was for her services to road safety.
She told the BBC: “I’m accepting this in the memory of my son, Dev, and for me it’s about continuing to focus on my campaign, which is safer drivers on safer roads.
“The first person I actually wanted to tell was Dev and it was so hard because he’s not here.
“We were always each other’s cheerleaders – it’s really hard.”
She said that she was “honoured and humbled” for her hard work to be recognised “especially in memory of Dev”.
“Grief is all-consuming…and it is devastating. If allowed, it can consume you. But I always believed in turning that into something positive by helping to save the lives of others. That’s what keeps me going,” Ms Naran said in a statement posted by De Montfort University where she is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacy.
“My campaigning voice has been motivated by all the unspent love I have for Dev. If he was here, he would be getting all that love. It would be his. But instead, I am using it for road safety.”
Reflecting on her campaigning she explained that it was her “determination” from the very beginning which helped her push for changes.
However, Ms Naran said: “I’m just really pleased it has got me where we are today, but obviously it comes with the sadness of losing my baby.
She added: “Until we achieve zero deaths, I will not be able to say that I have succeeded.”
A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas.
These methods could include utilising the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.
But there have been questions over their safety after fatal accidents involving stationary cars being hit from behind.
In April the government announced that no more smart motorways without hard shoulders will be able to open without additional safety measures put in place.
These are the gruesome injuries sustained by a Newcastle-born musician after she almost lost her arm when a lorry drove over it.
Cellist Laura Armstrong’s main artery was destroyed, meaning she needed a vein graft during emergency surgery.
What followed was a series of major operations, including an 11 hour procedure involving skin and nerve grafts. Almost two years on, she’s still undergoing significant treatment.
Devastatingly, the 23-year-old’s injuries also meant she was unable to continue with her master’s degree at the Royal College of Music.
Now she fears her injuries will prevent her realising her dream of becoming a professional cellist.
“I remember picking my arm up from the road and my fingers were white and wouldn’t move,” said Laura, who now lives in London.
“There was blood on the road. It was terrifying and excruciatingly painful. I never imagined one could be in such pain.
She was on her way to meet friends for lunch the collision happened in October 2019.
A keen cyclist, she was riding through Stratford when a lorry driver turned left across the cycle lane, in order to turn onto a road. The lorry then collided with Laura and drove over her right arm.
Laura recalled: “The crash happened so quickly. I was cycling in the cycle lane and suddenly the lorry turned directly across my path and I ended up under the lorry.
“The surgeons told me they were very close to amputating my arm but they were amazing and managed to save it.
“As a musician, what they did for me goes beyond words and I will always be thankful.”
She remained in The Royal London Hospital for 12 days after the incident as she underwent extensive treatment.
She added: “What happened that day continues to affect me still, both physically and emotionally. The accident has had a huge impact on my ability to do everyday things, including having to learn to write with my left hand.
“I have very little feeling in my right hand and limited movement in my arm and my greatest challenge is not knowing what the future holds for my career and if I will be able to become a cellist. I have an incredible professor, Raphael Wallfisch, and the Royal College of Music has helped me throughout my recovery.
“Music is hugely important to me so I am determined to keep trying.”
Besides a series of grafts, two plates were inserted for a fracture. She’s just recently undergone further surgery.
She was forced to defer her place whilst she underwent rehabilitation, putting the brakes on a promising career in which she toured Britain, Scandinavia and Singapore and performed with world famous conductors and composers including Sir Mark Elder and the late Oliver Knussen.
Laura instructed expert serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help her access the specialist rehabilitation and therapies she requires.
And she’s also joined the firm in supporting the consultation on changes to The Highway Code. One of the proposals – under rule H3 – will require motorists to give priority to cyclists when the driver is turning in or out of a junction or changing direction or lane.
Anna Pask, the specialist serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Laura, said: “Laura has faced an incredibly difficult time as she has attempted to come to terms with her injuries and the impact they’ve had on her life.
“The team at The Royal London did a fantastic job in saving Laura’s arm and while she has made progress in her recovery to date, she still faces many challenges ahead and will never regain full use of her arm.
“Given we represent people on a daily basis whose lives have been shattered as a result of death or serious injury on our roads, we support the proposed changes to The Highway Code as a welcome revision to assist all road users and improve road safety.
“We’re determined to support Laura so she can make the best possible recovery.”
The proposed new Rule H3 sets out that drivers should not cut across cyclists going ahead, when turning into or out of a junction, or changing lane. This applies to cyclists using a cycle lane, cycle track or riding ahead on the road. Drivers should give way.
And although Laura has not returned to cycling since the collision, she says: “Cycling is more popular than ever and is important to ensure people remain active. So it’s vital that everyone feels safe on the roads.
“The proposed changes to the Highway Code could definitely help.”