Oxford City Council asks for more powers to tackle air pollution

Published: Wednesday, 14th June 2017

Oxford City Council has responded to the Government’s new air quality action plan and asked for more powers to tackle air pollution in Oxford.

The Government published its Draft Air Quality Action Plan earlier this year, which aims to improve air quality across the UK, and invited responses as part of a consultation.

Town and cities, including Oxford, are currently failing to meet the European Union target of keeping average annual nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels to below 40μg/m3.

Air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, according to a report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have introduced a wide range of award-winning measures to improve air quality in Oxford, which has resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in NO2 level at roadsides in the last decade.

But in some areas of the city average NO2 levels are still above the European Union target of 40μg/m3. One measuring point in St Clement’s Street had an NO2 average of 67μg/m3 in 2015.

The Government’s Draft Air Quality Action Plan finds that, without any further action or measures, Oxford will meet the European Union’s target by 2020.

Oxford City Council, in its response to the action plan, expressed surprise at this assessment and concern about the excessively optimistic modelling underpinning it, which may not be representing local pollution profiles as robustly as it should.

The modelling does not use the City Council’s own monitoring data. The City Council, which has a legal duty to monitor air quality in Oxford, has 71 monitoring points that measure – in some cases in real time – the air pollution across the city.

The Government recommends 18 actions to tackle air quality across the UK as part of its action plan, of which the City Council said only five have significant potential to improve NO2 in Oxford.

The City Council and County Council have already implemented many of the recommended actions, including introducing an Air Quality Management Area in 2010, an award-winning Low Emission Zone in 2014 and converting the City Council’s fleet to low emission vehicles.

The City Council is currently leading a study to determine whether a Zero Emission Zone, which would include banning or charging pollution-emitting vehicles in the city centre, is feasible. This goes beyond the Government’s recommendations.

Oxford City Council, in its response, said the action plan does not go far enough and called on the Government to:

  • Lead on implementing low emission infrastructure, including charging stations, to avoid a disconnect across local authority boundaries
  • Introduce a scrappage scheme to encourage drivers to take high-emitting vehicles off the road
  • Fund enhanced subsidies to encourage the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles
  • Provide drivers with more information about the financial and health benefits of ultra-low emission vehicles to encourage behaviour change
  • Provide more funding for local authorities to implement innovative new products, such as NO2-reducing road surfaces
  • Set up a network for local authorities and the Government to share information and best practice

Councillor John Tanner, Executive Board Member for A Clean and Green Oxford, said: “We are deeply concerned that Oxford is unlikely to get Government funding to tackle air pollution because these draft proposals find that, without taking any further action, the city will have no problem by 2020. We think this is incorrect.

“We are anxious to work with the Government to tackle this public health emergency. Everyone has their part to play in reducing air pollution, which is why we have written to the Government today requesting more powers to help incentivise people out of high-emission vehicles.”

Download Oxford City Council’s full response to the Government’s Draft Air Quality Action Plan.