Published: Thursday, 4 March 2021

Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone Pilot is set for approval, after further improvements were made following a final round of public consultation.

If Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinets agree to the latest version of the zone is set to start in August this year. 

Oxford will then be one of the first places in the UK to introduce a Zero Emission Zone. 

The City and County Councils, have held three rounds of public consultation since the Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) was first proposed in 2015, held a final round of consultation on the Pilot between November 2020 and January 2021. 

More than 900 people took part, and the results show that residents and businesses are broadly in favour of the proposals. 

The ZEZ Pilot will restrict polluting vehicles from key city centre streets during the day. Those who drive polluting vehicles into the zone will be charged, with the level of daily charge dependent on how polluting the vehicle is.  

The ZEZ Pilot is the first phase of the Zero Emission Zone. It will allow the County and Councils to gain useful experience and information before introducing a larger Zero Emission Zone covering most of Oxford city centre in 2022, subject to further public consultation.

It is intended that the restrictions and exemptions applied within the Pilot will be the same in the expanded ZEZ. 

The scheme aims to reduce toxic air pollution levels, help tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health of residents, workers and visitors in Oxford and beyond.

 The City Council’s Cabinet will discuss the proposals next week (10/3), with the County Council having the final sign off as the highways authority on 16 March. 

November 2020 consultation 

In 2015, the County Council’s Local Transport Plan set an ambition to start a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford with the aim of reducing air pollution. Over the subsequent years, the proposals have been developed through extensive public and stakeholder consultation.  

The final formal consultation on the ZEZ Pilot proposals took place between 20 November 2020 and 17 January 2021, after having been delayed from March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The proposals were based on discussions with businesses affected by the proposals, as well as feedback from the January 2020 ZEZ consultation, the experience of COVID-19 and the spring lockdown, and the feedback from the temporary bus gates survey in the summer. 

In total, 885 responses were received via the online survey, with a further 34 responses by letter and email. The majority of respondents said they are Oxford residents, with 5% saying they live inside the ZEZ Pilot area, 73% saying they live in Oxford but outside the area, and 14% saying they live outside Oxford. 

The key highlights were:

  • When asked about the size of the ZEZ pilot area, 37 per cent of respondents thought that the streets covered are ‘about right’, 32 per cent thought that ‘more streets should be included’, 25 per cent thought that ‘fewer streets should be included’, and 6 per cent said they didn’t know
  • 38 per cent of all respondents thought that the proposed hours when charges would apply (7am - 7pm every day) are ‘about right’, 20 per cent thought that the hours are ‘too short’, 37 per cent of respondents thought charging hours are ‘too long’, and 5 per cent said they didn’t know
  • Overall, respondents thought the proposed discounts for certain vehicles are ‘about right’, including blue badge holders (49 per cent), residents of the zone (42 per cent) and businesses in the zone (39 per cent)

Just under half (47 per cent) of businesses who responded to the consultation thought the ZEZ pilot area size is about right, while 40 per cent thought fewer streets should be included, 4 per cent thought more streets should be included, and 9 per cent said they didn’t know.

When asked about the proposed charges for entering the zone while driving a polluting vehicle, the overall responses were:

  • 48 per cent thought the proposed levels of charges for ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) are ‘about right’, while 30 per cent thought they are ‘too high’, 12 per cent thought they were ‘too low’, and 10 per cent didn’t know
  • 42 per cent thought the proposed levels of charges for Clean Air Zone (CAZ) vehicles are ‘about right’, while 31 per cent thought they are ‘too high’, 16 per cent thought they were ‘too low’, and 11 per cent didn’t know.
  • When asked about the proposed charges for other vehicle not meeting the ULEV or CAZ standards, 36per cent thought that the proposed charges are about right, 35 per cent thought they are ‘too high’, 19 per cent thought they were ‘too low’, and 10 per cent didn’t know

Latest changes to the ZEZ pilot

Following the feedback from the latest consultation, the city and county councils have made the following updates to the final ZEZ pilot:

  • A 100 per cent discount for professional care and health workers while they are carrying out formal duties
  • A 100 per cent discount to students with acute financial hardship who need to enter the ZEZ pilot area to deliver or collect belongings at the start and end of university terms
  •  A 100 per cent discount for Blue Badge Holders for up to two vehicles until at least August 2025 – at which point a review will decide whether to extend the discount
  • A 90 per cent discount for residents living within the ZEZ Pilot for a maximum of two vehicles per address until August 2030
  • A 90 per cent discount for businesses operating in the ZEZ Pilot for a maximum of 10 vehicles registered to the business until 2025
  • A 50 per cent discount for petrol-electric hybrid private hire taxis, and non-Oxford Licenced Hackney carriage vehicles emitting less than 100g/km of CO2 until August 2025

Emergency service vehicles, hearses, military vehicles and historic tax class vehicles will also receive a 100 per cent discount. Temporary exemptions will also be granted to deal with planned road closures where normal compliance with the scheme is not possible. Residents and businesses will need to apply for the exemptions. Colleges will be asked to apply for the exemptions on behalf of their students.

Final ZEZ pilot

The final ZEZ pilot will cover:

  • New Road, between Bonn Square and its junction with Castle Street
  • Bonn Square
  • Queen Street
  • Cornmarket Street
  • New Inn Hall Street
  • Shoe Lane
  • Market Street, from its junction with Cornmarket extending east for 40 metres
  • Ship Street
  • St Michael’s Street

The ZEZ pilot would introduce daily charges, depending on the vehicle’s emissions:

  • Zero-emission vehicles (0g/km CO2): £0
  • Ultra-low emission vehicles (less than 75g/km CO2): £2 per day from August 2021, rising to £4 per day from August 2025.
  • Clean Air Zone compliant vehicles: £4 per day from August 2021, rising to £8 per day from August 2025.
  • Vehicles not meeting the above standards: £10 per day from August 2021, rising to £20 from August 2025.

Clean Air Zone-compliant vehicles include Euro 4 petrol and Euro 6 diesel four-wheel vehicles, and vehicles with fewer than four wheels that emit 75g/km CO2 or more.

The charges would be applied between 7am and 7pm, seven days a week. 

The ZEZ Pilot would work in a similar way to the London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone. Signs would be installed around the perimeter of the zone and on the routes into the city to notify drivers of the ZEZ Pilot. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras will be used to enforce the zone.          

Drivers or registered keepers of vehicles with CO2 emissions greater than 0g/km used in the zone during the charging hours would need to pay the required charge either before entering the zone or by midnight on the day after entering the zone.

Discounts and exemptions will be available for some road users, including blue badge holders, residents and businesses located in the zone, and emergency service vehicles.  

Under the requirement of the scheme, income raised through the ZEZ may be used to cover implementation and running costs. The remaining income will be used to help residents and businesses make the transition to zero-emission vehicles, and on other schemes that promote zero- and low-emission transport in the city. 

Oxfordshire County Council as the transport authority is responsible for procurement of the back office and enforcement systems and signage which require DfT approval. County council officers are working with the DfT to avoid any delay.

Tackling air pollution

There is growing evidence that air pollution causes series health conditions and early death:

  • A 2014 Public Health England report found that human-made particulate air pollution in Oxford was responsible for 6% of all deaths of people aged 25 and over
  • In January 2020, a study from Centre for Cities showed that the estimated absolute number of attributable deaths caused by PM2.5 alone in Oxford in 2017 was 55
  • A European Heart Journal report in March 2019 found that air pollution was responsible for 64,000 deaths in the UK every year – just 18% less than the 78,000 deaths caused annually by tobacco

In December 2020, an inquest into the death in 2013 of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah found that exposure to high levels of air pollution in Lewisham contributed to her death. The verdict is highly significant because it is the first time a specific individual’s death has been directly linked to poor air quality. 

Transport is the biggest source of poor air quality in Oxford, accounting for 68% of nitrogen oxide emissions.

Since 2013, Oxford has seen a 26% reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels largely due to the introduction of the City and County Councils’ introduction of the Low Emission Zone. However, between 2017 and the pandemic pollution levels had been plateauing – and there is no safe level of nitrogen dioxide. 

In its latest Air Quality Action Plan, Oxford City Council has set its own voluntary target for 30 µg/m3 of NO2 to be achieved, by 2025 at the latest- going beyond the current legal target set out by the UK Government of 40 µg/m3.

The NO2 target of 30 µg/m3 is both stretching, and realistically achievable by 2025 – however, without the introduction of key schemes such as the Oxford Zero Emission Zone and Connecting Oxford, it is unlikely that Oxford will meet this local target.

The ZEZ Pilot is just one part of Oxford’s transport strategy. Other parts of the strategy, such as Connecting Oxford, are more focused on traffic and congestion reduction but will also help reduce emissions.   

Together, Connecting Oxford and the ZEZ aim to create an efficient, high-capacity, zero emission transport system for Oxford with public transport and active travel at its heart.   

“Now, more than ever, we are alive to the importance of good health and well-being. Everyone has the right to breathe the cleanest air possible and both councils are moving forward with the introduction of Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone this year. Years of extensive consultation with businesses and citizens have got us to this pivotal point, and this plan reflects their views. Years ago we began to imagine a better Oxford with cleaner air and this Zero Emission Zone is a pragmatic yet visionary route to cleaner air and better health.” 

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, Oxford  City Council

“Tackling air pollution and climate change is a huge priority for Oxfordshire County Council. Not only will the Zero Emission Zone make a difference to the quality of life and health of people living and working in the city centre, we are showing that change is possible as we start to respond seriously with climate action. We can look forward to a city that will be a healthier and cleaner place for all.” 

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment, Oxfordshire County Council

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