Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have put forward joint proposals to introduce a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre that would see historic reductions in air pollution.
It is believed that this would be the world’s first Zero Emission Zone. Transport for London is planning to introduce the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone in the capital in September 2020.
The Zero Emission Zone proposals ban emitting vehicles from Oxford city centre in phases, starting with some vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020 and, as vehicle technology develops, moves to all vehicle types across the whole city centre in 2035.
This would take air pollution levels in Oxford city centre down to near-background levels. For example in the city centre’s most polluted street, George Street, a 74 per cent reduction in toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels is expected by 2035.
On Monday (16/10), the City and County Councils will launch a six-week public consultation on the proposals – seeking views on the speed of the implementation, and the vehicle types and roads affected.
The councils are seeking responses from everyone who uses the city centre – including businesses, fleet operators and local residents – to help shape the final scheme, which will be published next year.
The European Union requires national governments to keep annual average NO2 levels across their countries to below 40µg/m3. Despite a 36.9 per cent reduction in NO2 levels across Oxford in the last decade, parts of the city centre are still failing to meet this legal limit. Although the UK will not be in the EU by 2020 local councils are planning on the basis of regulations as they currently stand.
Latest monitoring data has found that air pollution appears to have plateaued above the legal limits in some parts of the city. Between 2011 and 2013, average NO2 levels across the city centre fell by 18.9 per cent; but between 2014 and 2016 they fell by just 3.9 per cent.
The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found, in a 2016 report, that air pollution contributes to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. It found that, each year in the UK, outdoor air pollution contributes to around 40,000 deaths.
The Zero Emission Zone proposals would see:
- From 2020: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from Queen Street, Cornmarket Street, New Inn Hall Street, Market Street, Ship Street and St Michael’s Street
- From 2025: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from roads including New Road, the southern part of Worcester Street, George Street, Magdalen Street, Magdalen Street East, Pembroke Street, Speedwell Street, Norfolk Street and Castle Street
- From 2030: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from all roads within Hollybush Row, Hythe Bridge Street, Worcester Street, Beaumont Street, St Giles’, part of Parks Road, South Parks Road, St Cross Road, Longwall Street, Merton Street, Blue Boar Street, St Aldate’s and Thames Street
- From 2035: All non-zero-emission vehicles, including HGVs, excluded from within the above area
This will result in significant cuts to NO 2 levels across the city, including:
- George Street: NO2 levels were 61µg/m3 in 2015, and are modelled to fall to 38µg/m3 in 2020 and 16µg/m 3 in 2035
- High Street: NO2 levels were 54µg/m3 in 2015, and are modelled to fall to 35µg/m3 in 2020 and 17µg/m3 in 2035
- St Aldate’s: NO2 levels were 49µg/m3 in 2015, and are modelled to fall to 33µg/m3 in 2020 and 16µg/m3 in 2035
- St Clement’s Street: NO2 levels were 67µg/m3 in 2015, and are modelled to fall to 55µg/m3 in 2020 and 34µg/m3 in 2035
The proposal for a Zero Emission Zone is contingent on technology being sufficiently developed to allow this to be practical.
The City Council, supported by the County Council, has already won £500,000 of Government funding to install charging points for electric taxis and £800,000 of Government funding to install 100 electric vehicle charging points for Oxford residents to support the implementation of the Zero Emission Zone.
Going forward, the Zero Emission Zone will need to be supported with further funding to install more electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Oxford. The City Council wrote to the Government in June to ask for more funding and powers to tackle air pollution in Oxford.
Other schemes under consideration to support the Zero Emission Zone include: offering reduced parking fees for electric vehicles, electric taxi-only ranks, and electric delivery vehicle-only loading areas.
The emission and financial modelling underpinning the Zero Emission Zone proposals comes from a new study, which was commissioned jointly by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, and was carried out by Ricardo Energy & Environment.
The study put forward six options for introducing a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre, ranging from limited introduction until 2035 to a near-full introduction in 2020. The proposed Zero Emission Zone – option three in the study’s list – takes a measured and realistic approach based on expected technology availability.
Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council launched a Low Emission Zone in Oxford city centre in 2014. The zone, which requires buses to be low-emitting vehicles, 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.
The Government announced plans in July to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040.
Oxfordshire County Council is exploring demand management options for Oxford including a potential Congestion Charge and Workplace Parking Levy. These measures are aimed at reducing traffic and congestion in the City and would also improve air quality. The Zero Emission Zone would complement these schemes by addressing emissions from the remaining traffic.
To read the full Zero Emission Zone Feasibility and Implementation Study and take part in the consultation, which will be available from Monday 16 October, please visit: www.oxford.gov.uk/zez.
Councillor John Tanner, Oxford City Council Executive Board Member for A Clean and Green Oxford, said: “Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents. A step change is urgently needed; the Zero Emission Zone is that step change.
“All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic air. Everyone needs to do their bit – from national Government and local authorities, to businesses and residents – to end this public health emergency.
“The County and City together are proposing a staged Zero Emission Zone from 2020 in the city centre, with additional measures to bring down chronic pollution in St Clement’s Street, High Street and St Aldate’s. Everyone who uses Oxford centre has the right to breathe clean air.
“I would urge everyone who uses Oxford city centre to take part in the consultation. We need to know, in detail, what people’s needs are, so that we can plan a Zero Emission Zone that minimises impact on business and residents while maximising impact on the city’s health.”
Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “We want to hear from everyone who uses the city centre – including businesses, bus and taxi firms and local residents so that we get the fullest possible picture. We know that there will be a wide variety of views and we want hear them all.
“Pragmatism will be an important part of anything we plan but we have set the ambition and now we would like to hear peoples’ views on our proposals.”
Martin Sutton, Managing Director of Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, said: "Stagecoach has invested heavily in hybrid and low emission buses in recent years and already has one of the cleanest bus fleets in the country.
“We are fully committed to working with the City and County Councils to achieve further improvements in air quality and we are pleased to see that all vehicle types are included in these latest proposals.
“There is still some way to go before zero-emission technology for buses is fully developed and we look forward to working with both City and County Councils to explore what can be achieved and in what timescales."
Phil Southall, Managing Director of the Oxford Bus Company, said: "One of our core values is being socially responsible to the people we serve and the environment we all share, and so we always embrace modern technology to ensure we are as green as possible. All of our fleet was upgraded to at least Euro 5 standard for the introduction of the Low Emission zone in 2014, and today we already have 70 Euro 6 vehicles, as well as 90 vehicles with hybrid systems fitted.
"We support the principle of a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford. However, zero emission bus and coach technology is still evolving so we will work with the City Council to identify the possible solutions for Oxford and the time frame in which they might be able to be deployed."