Proposals to introduce UK’s first localised air pollution target in Air Quality Action Plan approved

Published: Thursday, 21st January 2021

Oxford City Council’s cabinet has approved its Air Quality Action Plan 2021-2025, which will see the Council become the first UK local authority to set out a city-wide air pollution reduction target.

The target aims to protect residents from harmful air pollution levels.

The new Air Quality Action Plan 2021-2025, which was approved yesterday (20/1), outlines a list of 30 actions that the Council and its partners will take to improve air quality in Oxford City between the years 2021 to 2025.

“30 by 25”

In its plan, the 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 current legal annual mean limit value for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, however research now shows that this is not a safe limit.

The target of 30 µg/m3 by 2025 is based on evidence, including an analysis of Oxford’s historic air quality monitoring data from 2002 – 2018, air quality modelling projections and studies, and the expected impact of the measures proposed in the new Air Quality Action Plan.

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 Air Quality Action Plan has been produced as part of the Council’s statutory duties required by the Local Air Quality Management framework.

The Air Quality Action Plan, will be subject to an annual review and each year progress will be reported in the Air Quality Annual Status Reports (ASRs).

Actions in 2021-2025

The Air Quality Action Plan 2021-25 outlines a framework of activity in the city to reduce NO2 emissions, whilst also highlighting new actions to reach and go beyond the current limit value for NO2.

The plan sets out 30 actions and measures for the Council to deliver with its partners across four priority areas:

  • Developing partnerships and public education;
  • Support for the uptake of low and zero emission vehicles;
  • Reducing emissions from domestic heating, industry and services
  • Reduce the need to travel, explore opportunities for mode shift and increase the uptake of sustainable transport

The main priorities for the period 2021-2025 are focused on the delivery of Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) and Connecting Oxford - two major schemes which have been developed to tackle road traffic emissions and the dominance of the car on our roads.

Tackling air pollution

Overall, since 2013 the city has seen a 26% reduction in NO2 levels. However, since 2017 the city has seen air pollution levels plateau.

According to the latest Source Apportionment Study completed by Ricardo Energy and Environment, the transport sector in Oxford continues to be by far the largest contributor (68%) to total NOx emissions in the city.

Currently, diesel cars contribute to 33% of NOx emissions, and buses to 32% of emissions. However, after the conversion of all buses to Euro VI through the Low Emission Zone, it is predicted that NOx emissions from buses will decrease, with an estimated 40.6% decrease in bus NOx emissions at St Clement’s - Oxford’s most polluted street.

Oxford City Council, and Oxfordshire County Council are planning to introduce the Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ), which will begin with the ZEZ Pilot in August 2021. The ZEZ is being introduced to ensure Oxford’s residents and visitors can breathe air as clean as possible and reduce the impact of air pollution on the health of all those who live, work, and visit Oxford.

“We all have a right to breathe clean air. However, harmful levels of air pollution are harming people’s health and cutting lives short, with poorer and more disadvantaged people disproportionately affected. Air pollution is, at its heart, a social justice issue.

By setting a new Air Quality Action Plan, and a city-wide air pollution reduction target, we go further and faster than the Government's national legal target, and we'll be the first council to do so with an Air Quality Action Plan. We want to race to our nitrogen oxide target of “30 by 25. Approval of our Air Quality Action Plan is an exciting and significant step in our journey to tackle emissions in the city, and I want to thank everyone who responded to our consultation and shape the final version of the plan."
Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford