Nottingham City Council’s pioneering scheme to transform the city by funding greener transport through a Workplace Parking Levy has jointly won the 2017 Ashden Award for Clean Air in Towns and Cities.

Thanks to the scheme, public transport usage in the city has increased by almost five million journeys a year since April 2013 and Nottingham now has the lowest emissions per head of population of all the large UK cities outside London.

The Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) works by requiring businesses with 11 or more employees parking on their premises to pay a yearly charge. The scheme has two aims: to reduce the number of cars coming into the city and to raise revenue for Nottingham’s integrated public transport system.

The Ashden Awards are given to pioneers in sustainable energy and are a globally recognised measure of excellence. Along with 12 other organisations, Nottingham City Council will receive their award on Thursday 15 June at a prestigious ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy will host the Awards and former Vice-President of the US Al Gore is the keynote speaker.

Nottingham City Council shares its award with Big Birmingham Bikes, a scheme to encourage cycling amongst residents living in deprived areas of Birmingham.

According to the Ashden judges: “Nottingham City Council is a UK sustainable transport exemplar and on a par with top European cities. It has achieved full public transport integration and brought in a unique Workplace Parking Levy and, in doing so, has succeeded in changing behaviour as well as transforming parts of the city into quieter, less polluted zones.”

The city’s integrated public transport system now includes trams over three lines spanning 34km, one of the biggest electric bus fleets in Europe and segregated cycle routes for bikes. New improvements include an Eco Expressway, which is currently being added to an existing road to the east of the city and will feature bike lanes and a priority lane for use by electric and biomethane buses and by ultra-low emission cars.

Nottingham City Council is also a Go Ultra Low City which means they are committed to becoming an exemplar for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) to address local air quality and environmental health issues.

Passengers can also pay for public transport journeys using the Robin Hood Card, a pay as you go smartcard. Thirty thousand of these cards have been issued to date, an indication of the popularity of the public transport network. Now other city councils, including Cambridge and Oxford are approaching Nottingham City Council to talk about the scheme, hoping to replicate it in their own areas.

Councillor Jon Collins, Nottingham City Council’s Leader and Portfolio Holder for Strategic Infrastructure, said: “The UK Ashden Awards are some of the most prestigious in the industry and so we are very honoured to have been awarded with the title of Clean Air in Towns and Cities.

“We are really proud of our achievements to make Nottingham’s transport greener, joined-up and easy to use. This award recognises the hard work and dedication of the teams who have worked with our partners to deliver real transport improvements and to provide a range of sustainable transport options that make it possible to leave the car at home.

“We know there is more to do to further improve air quality in Nottingham – we are up to the challenge and this prize fund and other funding opportunities will help us achieve these aims. I believe that Nottingham is on the road to becoming the greenest transport city in the UK.”

Ashden UK Award winners will receive a prize of up to £10,000 along with tailored support to help scale up their work.