The City Council has joined leaders from cities across England to criticise Michael Gove’s Clear Air Plan, saying it does not go far enough to deal with the public health crisis caused by dirty air.
Councillors Bob Price, Council Leader, and John Tanner, Executive Board Member for a Clean and Green Oxford, joined with leaders from Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester and Southampton, along with both the directly elected Mayor of Liverpool and the newly elected metro-Mayor of Liverpool City Region, to urge the Secretary of State to do more now to crack down on polluting vehicles that contribute to tens of thousands of lives being cut short every year.
Without government legislation and scrappage schemes to help those who have bought diesel cars in good faith, the city leaders fear they will not be able to manage the transition of their cities and communities to cleaner vehicles.
Their letter to Mr Gove said: "If the evidence shows that the most effective means of improving air quality quickly is through a charging Clean Air Zone, the government should mandate this rather than insisting it is a choice for local government."
They want a new Clean Air Act that would encompass the range of measures, especially a national framework, within which they could work. They are also sceptical of Mr Gove's claims that "surgical interventions" focussed on hotspots and individual roads will help, arguing they could worsen traffic and congestion and displace the problem elsewhere.
Councillor John Tanner, Executive Board Member for a Clean and Green Oxford, said: “Today we have joined leaders from cities across the UK in calling for the Government to take more action to tackle air pollution. Oxford cannot wait until 2040 for clean air; we need urgent action now.
“We are leading on tackling air quality in Oxford, but we are anxious to work with the Government to tackle this public health emergency more strategically. The Government’s decision to push responsibility for air quality to local authorities risks a patchwork approach across the UK.
“Locally we have been working with Oxfordshire County Council to install new electric vehicle charging stations in residential streets and for the city’s taxis, to improve cycling infrastructure across the city, and to introduce a Low Emission Zone in the city centre. This has seen air pollution cut by 36.9% across Oxford in the last decade.
“But to meet air pollution targets in Oxford, we urgently need another step change to reduce emissions. We are looking to introduce a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre by 2020, and we would like to see the Government supporting us in this endeavour.”
Joe Anderson, directly elected mayor of Liverpool, said: "Liverpool has had to get on with creating its own plans, including looking at banning diesel cars in the city centre because the government have been woeful at tackling this problem. This latest version of the plan still doesn't do what is needed: we need national action and financial support now to back up local leaders. This is a public health crisis which you can't just put off til 2040."