Working group established to improve air quality in Oxford’s most polluted street

Published: Monday, 30th October 2017

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have set up a joint working group to tackle toxic air pollution in St Clement’s Street – Oxford’s most polluted street.

The average nitrogen dioxide level in St Clement’s Street in 2016 was 61µg/m3 – 152.5 per cent of the legal limit of 40µg/m3.                                                                                                           

Further to their proposals to create a Zero Emission Zone in central Oxford, the new working group will look at the sources of pollution and come up with targeted proposals to improve air quality. About 75 per cent of air pollution comes from traffic, and air quality is affected by congestion.

Earlier this month (16/10) the City and County Councils launched a six-week public consultation into a proposed Zero Emission Zone for Oxford city centre.

The Zero Emission Zone proposals will reduce air pollution in Oxford city centre by up to 74 per cent to near background levels, but the proposed zone does not cover St Clement’s Street. Nitrogen dioxide in the St Clement’s Street will only drop below the legal limit (to 34µg/m3) in 2035.

The new working group was agreed between the City and County Councils earlier this month (October). It is the first time the City and County Councils have set up a group to tackle air pollution in a specific road.

Oxfordshire County Council is the transport authority; Oxford City Council has a legal duty to monitor and report on air pollution.

A 2016 report found that outdoor air pollution causes around 40,000 deaths every year in the UK.

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.

Annual average Nitrogen dioxide levels in St Clement’s Street were 67µg/m3 in 2015 and 85µg/m3 in 2012.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have worked together on a series of measures to tackle air pollution in Oxford, including introducing the award-winning Low Emission Zone in 2011, winning £500,000 of Government funding to install charging points for electric taxis and winning £800,000 of Government funding to install 100 electric vehicle charging points for Oxford residents.

In June the City Council wrote to the Government to ask for more funding and powers to tackle air pollution in Oxford.

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 Government announced plans in July to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040.

Councillor John Tanner, Oxford City Council’s Executive Board Member for A Clean and Green Oxford, said: “The Zero Emission Zone will be a step change in tackling air pollution in Oxford. But there is a particular problem in St Clement’s Street because it is so narrow with high buildings and is used by a large volume of traffic.

“It is entirely right that the County and City Councils together should look at the particular pollution problems of St Clement’s Street. We need to bring pollution levels there below the safe and legal limit as soon as possible to safeguard everyone’s health.

“Local residents living in Oxford’s most polluted street have understandably raised concerns with ward members and the City Council. This working group has been set up as a direct response to those and our own concerns about the toxic air pollution in St Clement’s Street.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “There is a great deal of innovative work being done to improve transport across Oxfordshire at the moment and I am delighted that we are working so closely with the City Council for better air quality in the city.

“The Zero Emission Zone will ultimately bring benefits for areas inside and outside the zone, but right now there are places like St Clement’s Street where we really need to focus on solutions that will have an effect sooner.”