City centre air quality improving - report

Published: Friday, 30th October 2015

Air quality is improving in Oxford city centre, a new report shows, with nitrogen dioxide levels now at their lowest since 2000.

Nitrogen dioxide levels along city centre roads have dropped by 35 per cent on average over the last 10 years.

The pollutant is a particular issue in the city centre and can cause respiratory issues, particularly for people with underlying health conditions.

The reduction has been attributed to a range of improvements to city centre buses, including rerouting buses, integrating tickets and the Low Emission Zone. The City Council and Oxfordshire County Council worked with the local bus companies to introduce the zone last year, which requires all local bus services to run the latest low emission vehicles.

Oxford City Council has a statutory duty to monitor air quality in Oxford and produces a report every year. The report, which the Council is required to produce for Defra, reviews the air quality situation in the city and – if new concerns are raised – makes recommendations. No new concerns have been raised this year.

The key findings of the report are:

  • Nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped by 35 per cent at roadsides in the city centre
  • Following increases between 2009 and 2012, nitrogen dioxide levels in High Street and St Aldate’s are now falling. St Aldate’s levels are 10 per cent below 2010 levels, while High Street is 20 per cent below 2010 figures.
  • Four hotspot areas outside the city centre (Weir’s Lane, Cowley centre, Green Road Roundabout and London Road in Headington) are no longer hotspots
  • No new areas have become hotspots.

The City Council monitors air quality using two devices, 70 diffusion tubes, which are dotted around the city and are collected once a year, and large monitoring stations at key hotspots, which provide live data.

Last week the City Council and Oxfordshire County Council won the Local Authority Air Quality Initiative of the Year at the National Air Quality Awards for the Low Emission Zone.

Other recent City Council work to improve air quality has included reducing the emissions of the Council’s own vehicles, making £250,000 worth of improvements to the cycle network, installing bicycle parking at our park and rides, and bidding for £9m from the Government to encourage the use of electric vehicles in Oxford.

Last week the City Council also helped launch a new website – Oxfordshire AirQuality – which provides real-time information about air quality in Oxfordshire.

Oxford city centre was named an Air Quality Management Area 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.

The AQMA was created to tackle emissions of nitrogen dioxide because Oxford was failing to meet the national objectives for annual levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere.

Particulate (PM10) levels have remained consistently low and below the national objectives, so they have not been included in the AQMA – although, the City Council continues to monitor PM10 levels at two locations in the city. Particulates are small particles in the atmosphere that can get deep into the lungs and cause health problems.

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

Councillor John Tanner, Board Member for a Cleaner, Greener Oxford, said: “Air quality is improving right across Oxford largely thanks to cleaner buses but there are still worrying hotspots in the city centre. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and the City Council is examining what further steps to take to clean-up those city centre streets where pollution remains above the legal maximum.

“We all have a part to play in creating cleaner air by walking and cycling more, using electric cars where we can and reducing diesel and petrol vehicle journeys especially through the city centre. The good news is that over most of Oxford pollution is way below the legal maximum and is continuing to fall thanks in part to the Low Emission Zone introduced by the City and County Councils.”

Download the full report.