Drivers of high-polluting vehicles will have to pay to drive through Birmingham after the government approved plans for Clean Air Zone earlier this year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

COUNCIL chiefs were on Wednesday (10) urged to exempt religious institutions from Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charges.

Birmingham’s Central Mosque, the biggest in Europe, falls inside the charging zone and it attracts nearly 5000 worshippers every week.

Visitors whose cars do not meet anti-pollution criteria faces a daily £8 fee when the CAZ comes into force next year.

Councillor Muhammad Afzal, speaking in his role as chairman of Central Mosque, the new charges could affect attendance for prayers and funerals.

“This will affect thousands of people who attend the mosque every week. During Ramadan around 25-30,000 people attend prayers,” Afzal was quoted as saying.

“We also have many funerals where people come from a wide area, from Bradford, London, all over.”

Councillor Majid Mahmood said the coucil could risk being discriminatory if a way to exempt worshippers attending prayers is not considered.

However, Phil Edwards, assistant director, transport and connectivity, said it would be difficult to enfore the issue of exempting those who followed particular or all religions.

In March, the government approved plans for a CAZ after analysis by local authority found air pollution was responsible for shortening the lives of about 900 people a year.

Motorists in petrol cars built before 2006 and diesels before 2015 will have to pay £8 under the proposals. It is estimated that up to £43 million in charges will be netted in the first year that CAZ is in operation.

The chargeable area is within the A4540 ring road. It will affect drivers of petrol vehicles that are over 12 years old and diesel vehicles manufactured before 2015.

All the money generated through the zone will be reinvested to improve public transport and to tackle air pollution.