Oxford’s air quality continues to improve – new data

Published: Friday, 28th October 2016

Oxford’s air quality continues to improve, new data has revealed.

The data is the first since Oxford City Council increased the number of air quality measuring locations in the city by nearly 50 per cent – to 71 stations.

Road-side levels of nitrogen dioxide have dropped by an average of 35 per cent across Oxford in the last 10 years.

Oxford City Council, which has a statutory duty to monitor air quality across Oxford, has released the data in its Air Quality Annual Status Report 2016. The data is from the 2015 calendar year.

The City Council monitors harmful emissions, including nitrogen dioxide, through a range of methods at air quality hot spots – areas with high levels of road traffic – across Oxford.

Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant that can cause respiratory issues, particularly for people with underlying health conditions. Oxford, particularly in the historic city centre, has high levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The 2016 report found:

  • Road-side levels of nitrogen dioxide have dropped by an average of 35 per cent across Oxford in the last 10 years
  • Levels of nitrogen dioxide are continuing to fall in High Street and St Aldate’s. St Aldate’s levels are 15 per cent below 2010 levels, and fell from 52μg/m3 in 2014 to 49μg/m3 in 2015. High Street levels are 25 per cent below 2010 figures, and fell from 47μg/m3 in 2014 to 44μg/m3 in 2015
  • The percentage of monitoring locations that are breaching the European Union’s objective of 40μg/m3 of nitrogen dioxide has fallen, from 58% in 2011 to 32% in 2015
  • At some monitoring locations the City Council saw small increases in measured levels of NO2. In general, these were associated with locations where traffic and congestion levels were influenced by events such as long-term road works. This was particularly the case around Frideswide Square and the Plain Roundabout, and routes leading to and from both

The City Council is required to produce the monitoring report every year by Defra. If new concerns are raised the report is required to make recommendations to tackle the issue. No new concerns have been raised this year.

The City Council monitors air quality using two methods, 75 diffusion tubes, which are dotted around 71 locations in the city and are collected on a monthly basis to provide an annual mean, and large monitoring stations at key hotspots, which provide live air quality data.

The City Council, despite not being the transport authority for Oxford, has led a series of projects to reduce harmful emissions in Oxford, including:

  • Launching, with Oxfordshire County Council, the Low Emission Zone. The zone, which requires buses to reduce emissions, was the first of its kind outside London and won the Local Authority Air Quality Initiative of the Year at the National Air Quality Awards 2015
  • Launching, with Oxfordshire’s district councils, the Oxfordshire Air Quality website to make historic and real-time air quality data more readily accessible to members of the public
  • Increasing the number of diffusion tube monitoring locations in the city by 47.9 per cent – from 48 in 2014 to 71 in 2015
  • Launching Oxford Park and Pedal last year, which has seen more than 100 cycle parking spaces introduced at two City Council park and ride sites
  • Investing £340,000 to improve Oxford’s cycling network between 2012 and 2016 as part of the Oxford Cycle City initiative

Over the next year the City Council will also:

  • Launch the Schools Tackling Oxford’s Air Pollution (STOP) project, which will see the City Council working with six Oxford schools to install real-time air quality monitoring stations and provide educational material about air quality
  • Use the £800,000 of grants won from the Government’s Go Ultra Low City Scheme to install electric vehicle charging stations in residential streets
  • Ensure air quality is considered fully during the development of Oxford’s Local Plan, which will define how the city develops over the next 20 years
  • Work with Oxfordshire County Council to further develop measures from the Oxford Transport Strategy, which includes making parts of the city centre a Zero Emission Zone

Oxford city centre was designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 2001. The entire city was declared an AQMA in 2010. This required the City Council, working with partner organisations, to produce an action plan to improve the air quality, which was published in 2013.

Councillor John Tanner, Executive Board Member for a Clean and Green Oxford, said: “Oxford City Council is dedicated to tackling air quality, and I am pleased to see that air quality is gradually improving across the city.

“We go above and beyond our remit, launching award-winning and nationally-recognised schemes, to improve air quality across Oxford – to improve the health of residents and to help tackle climate change.

“But the City Council can only do so much. Ultimately, improving air quality is the responsibility of everyone. Everyday decisions, such as choosing to commute short distances by car, have a massive impact on air quality – and therefore the health of our community.”

The City Council started monitoring air quality in 1997, after the Government gave the air quality monitoring responsibility to district and city councils.

Only the Government has a legal responsibility to improve air quality across the UK. This responsibility is set by the European Commission.

Download the Air Quality Annual Status Report 2016.