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Improving the UK’s air quality: Delivering the digital infrastructure to support Clean Air Zones

Clean air is essential for making sure our cities are welcoming and healthy places for people to live and work. By improving air quality, we can reduce the impacts of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollutants on people’s health and create great places for living in, as well as great places to make a living. Informed Solutions is proud to be the digital delivery partner and national service manager for a service helping bring cleaner air to millions.

The Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) is charged with delivering HM Government’s legal and policy commitments to improve air quality by reducing levels of NO2 pollution.  One of JAQU’s key priorities is to work in collaboration with Local Authorities to influence changes in motorist behaviour that will lead to reductions in transport related Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  The Clean Air Zone (CAZ) Framework permits Local Authorities to implement Charging Clean Air Zones as a measure for achieving this.  When entering a charging CAZ, a vehicle will be subject to a monetary charge if it does not meet certain EURO emissions standards.  The intent is that the introduction of Charging Clean Air Zones will drive changes in motorist behaviour – such as upgrading to a cleaner vehicle or using public transport – that will lead to reductions in NO2 pollution.

Informed Solutions was appointed by JAQU to deliver, support and continually improve the Central CAZ Service – a national digital service that provides the infrastructure necessary to implement Charging CAZs.  The specific challenges that the Central CAZ Service had to solve included:

  1. Using data captured via Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to determine whether a vehicle navigating a Charging CAZ is compliant with EURO emissions standards specified by the CAZ Framework.
  2. If a vehicle is not compliant, determining if it is liable to be charged and, if so, how much.
  3. Enabling any motorists, be they a private motorist or large fleet operation, to pay any charges that they are liable for.

The Central CAZ Service is a national digital infrastructure with exacting non-functional requirements for security, availability, elastic scalability and resilience.  The service needed to be delivered within demanding timescales to meet public ministerial commitments and so, following a detailed technology options assessment, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was chosen as the cloud service provider for the Central CAZ Service given its proven capability to satisfy these requirements.

PaaS and SaaS AWS offerings have been used wherever possible to accelerate and de-risk delivery, maximise technical quality and minimise administrative and maintenance overheads.  A serverless execution model is used to maximise the solutions’ ability to scale elastically in response to changing demand.  A loosely microservice-based architecture has been adopted so that it is possible to incrementally build, test and release the solution in an agile way.

Working together, Informed Solutions and JAQU successfully support, maintain and continually improve the CAZ Service.  As a result, the first Clean Air Zones will launch in 2021 and the solution will play a vital role in improving the quality of the air we breathe.  Several services are already live, including the Vehicle Compliance Checker – a national GOV.UK service used by motorists to determine if they will be charged for driving into a CAZ. 

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