Newcastle Clean Air Zone's unpaid fines total £2.6 million as 'significant' penalties rack up

Clean Air Zone warning signs in Newcastle city centre.
-Credit: (Image: Iain Buist/Newcastle Chronicle)


Drivers and companies falling foul of Newcastle’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) owe more than £2 million in unpaid fines.

A new report confirms that the income received by Newcastle and Gateshead councils from the city centre pollution charging zone was £3.44 million in 2023/34, its first full financial year in operation. That is made up of the daily tolls of either £12.50 or £50 levied on certain vehicles that do not meet the CAZ’s emissions standards and from the resulting penalty charge notices (PCNs) if motorists fail to pay their toll within the six-day deadline.

However, councillors were told this week that there is a substantial sum owed to the local authority in unpaid fines over the same period – a total of £2.6 million. The fine for an unpaid toll is £120, reduced to £60 if paid within 14 days, plus the original CAZ toll – and then a further £60 if the PCN is not paid within 28 days.

Newcastle City Council transport boss Pamela Holmes told a scrutiny committee on Tuesday that local authority officials were finding it more difficult to chase up unpaid fines than they would with a standard parking ticket and that some people can accrue a “significant amount” of penalties in a short period if they are unaware of the CAZ’s restrictions.

Some older and higher polluting taxis, buses, coaches, lorries, and vans have been subject to daily tolls to enter the city centre since 2023, in a scheme targeted at cutting illegal levels of air pollution. All private cars are exempt from the charges.

The entrance to the Clean Air Zone at Barras Bridge in Newcastle City Centre.
The entrance to the Clean Air Zone at Barras Bridge in Newcastle City Centre. -Credit:Craig Connor/ChronicleLive

It was also revealed this week that the CAZ has cut the number of non-compliant vehicles driving through the city centre from 26,000 to 10,000 per week since its launch.

Ms Holmes’ report to the council’s finance and budget monitoring scrutiny committee states that most of the unpaid fines relate to light goods vehicles. She told the committee: “We are finding it very different to a parking ticket.

"Someone could come into the CAZ and rack up quite a significant amount of fines in a very short period of time… people are racking up quite a significant amount or travelling through and not being aware. We are finding it is taking more time chasing up the payments of the PCNs and we are looking at how to address that.”

The yearly income from the CAZ is forecast to rise to £4.17 million this year but then decrease over time as non-compliant vehicles are phased out of the market. That money must be used in the first instance to pay for the operation of the CAZ system and then any surplus spent on transport improvements in Newcastle and Gateshead.

A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said: “A Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) will only be issued to a registered keeper if payment of a Clean Air Zone charge has not been made within six days of the journey. The majority of PCN payments are made at this stage but unfortunately there are a number of cases where this has not happened, despite repeated notifications and reminder letters being issued.

“Where people fail to respond, this results in higher levels of outstanding debt and further enforcement action, which is taken in line with our standard enforcement procedures. This is not action that we take lightly and we make every effort to encourage people to resolve matters at the earliest opportunity.

“We would urge people who have received a PCN or notice of further enforcement action to contact us, particularly if they are struggling to pay, so that we can look at what support can be given. We would also encourage people to check their route and their vehicle so that they are aware of any CAZ charges owed. In particular we would urge employers to ensure their drivers notify them of any journeys they make within the CAZ so that any required payments can be made within the timeframe allowed.”