Published: Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published final draft proposals for the UK’s first city centre Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ), to be introduced later this year.

The proposed Red Zone marks the next step towards cleaner air in Oxford, and a dramatic reduction in the health risks for people living and working in the city. It is also expected that the ZEZ will improve air pollution levels in towns and villages across Oxfordshire because the buses and taxis and other vehicles that serve Oxford also serve towns and villages across the county.

In addition, a Green Zone is proposed for introduction in 2021/22, covering the rest of the city centre.  

Both councils have now launched an informal consultation on a draft final scheme for the Red Zone, including the proposed charging and enforcement arrangements, which could begin in December 2020.

This follows a year of increasing focus locally, nationally, and globally about the harmful impact of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from vehicles, and follows both the City Council and County Council’s recognising a climate emergency and making commitments to cut carbon emissions.

The ZEZ aims to reduce Oxford’s toxic air pollution levels, tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health of those living, working, and visiting in Oxford and beyond.

The new proposals consider the Red Zone, which covers a small area of the city centre and will start from December 2020 for all vehicles. They also propose the creation of a Green Zone covering the rest of the city centre in 2021/22, which would be accessed for free by zero emission vehicles and with discounted charges for vehicles which comply with the London Ultra Low Emission Zone standards.

The key points of the latest proposals are:

  • The introduction of a charging scheme in the Red Zone between 7am-7pm, with a £10 charge for non-compliant vehicles entering the zone
  • Discounts for all blue badge holders entering the zone until December 2024
  • Exemptions for businesses registered in the Red Zone until December 2024, followed by a discount until December 2030
  • A 90% discount for residents living in the zone until December 2030
  • Buses and Oxford licensed Hackney Carriages which drive within the planned Zero Emission have already agreed timelines for zero emissions fleets across Oxford and will not be subject to charges

The informal consultation on the Red Zone will be open from Tuesday 7 January – Friday 31 January, with the councils looking for feedback on: the level the charges are set at, whether the discounts are appropriate, the suggested hours of operation for the charging scheme, what future phases of the Zero Emission Zone should include, and when they should be implemented.

The Red Zone will then go to formal consultation in March, and the draft charging order published, with both councils making a formal decision on implementation in the spring, which could mean the scheme coming into effect in December 2020. 

Buses and taxis are already on agreed journeys towards zero emission fleets. From January 2020, all Hackney Carriage Vehicles licenced in Oxford will be moving towards becoming zero emission by 2025, with phased emission standards. The councils are working with bus companies operating in Oxford to move towards zero emission by 2035 at the latest, but are working to achieve this by 2030 if possible.

The Oxford Zero Emission Zone is a similar type of scheme to that used in London to enforce emission requirements. Several other cities in Britain and other countries are looking at ways to improve air quality by restricting vehicle access in similar ways. 

“2020 will be a crunch year for our climate and all our futures. We face a climate emergency that threatens all of our futures. For the sake of everyone in Oxford, and especially our children’s lungs, we must clean up the lethal air we’re all breathing. Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone will come into force this year and help make 2020 the year we make a game-changing difference.

“With our strengthened Zero Emission Zone and the introduction of hundreds of supporting charging points, our medieval city is leading the electric vehicle revolution. Our two councils have taken a fresh look at the big idea of charging commuters to drive polluting vehicles in and out of the city centre. And we’re listening to Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change by speeding up our journey to a city-wide Zero Emission Zone.

“Local government isn’t prepared to delay action. Our two councils are working together to enhance lives here in Oxford and across the market towns and villages of Oxfordshire.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford, Oxford City Council

“I am really pleased that at the start of the New Year we are on track to introduce the Zero Emission Zone in Oxford by the end of 2020. Not only will this project make a huge difference to the quality of life and health of people living and working in the city centre, we are showing that it is possible as we start to respond seriously to the climate emergency. This is a great way to start an important decade of climate action.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment, Oxfordshire County Council

“We’re very excited to see these bold measures coming from local government. We all face a severe climate emergency, globally and locally - Many damaging particulates and emissions come from transport and protecting the health of residents should always be a priority. 

“The rise of online deliveries has presented a range of transport issues for medieval cities like Oxford - Cargo bikes can deliver up to 51% of all goods in cities and we enjoy inspiring residents and business’s showing what is possible to be delivered by the humble cargo bike. We now work with over 80 local businesses delivering everything from parcels to veg boxes to urgent medication and we've managed to save an estimated 30 tons of co2 from cycling across 2019. The ZEZ gives us as a local business the confidence to invest further and be much more ambitious in 2020 to help Oxford towards emission free deliveries. 

“We look forward to working with the two councils to help support and develop these measures, if this is going to work, then we will all have to work together. The challenges we face are extremely daunting but the road to zero is achievable if we act now"

Christopher Benton, Director of Pedal & Post

“We at OXWASH are thrilled the council is leading by example by implementing the UK’s first city centre Zero Emission Zone. As a stronghold of progress, innovation and free-thinking, it is only fitting that Oxford be the example of how cities and novel zero-emission logistics and transportation can co-exist”

Kyle Grant, Founder of Oxwash

Oxford Zero Emission Zone

In 2017, both councils announced joint proposals to introduce a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford, which would see a historic reduction in air pollution levels. More than 750 residents and businesses took part in a six-week public consultation on the proposals in late 2017, with about 70% of respondents backing a phased approach to the ZEZ. In January 2019, after 15 months of listening to residents, businesses, transport operators, and health experts across Oxford, the councils announced updated proposals, which considered phased restrictions on some vehicles and journey types.

Transport accounts for about 75% of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Oxford, and 50 tonnes of CO2 are emitted by road traffic in Oxford every morning rush hour.

In October 2019, Oxford City Council published a new assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions—including carbon dioxide—generated across different sectors of the city which found that road transportation is responsible for 16% of emissions in Oxford (the second largest source of emissions behind buildings).

Over the past decade, air pollution levels in Oxford have decreased by 36.8% due to the City Council and County Council’s work to tackle the issue. However, the latest data from the Oxford City Council’s 72 air pollution monitoring locations has shown that levels of toxic NO2 fell by an average of 0.23% between 2017 and 2018 –a starkly slower rate in comparison to the 22.7% decrease between 2016 and 2017.

Air pollution has been found to contribute to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and with changes linked to dementia. Data published by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated that around 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year could be linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, with health experts warning that there is no safe level of NO2.

The Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change discussed the theme of transport, alongside buildings, waste, renewable energy, and biodiversity and offsetting. Assembly Members found that foresaw major changes in transport provision in Oxford with cycling, walking, and public transport prioritised over private motor vehicles. Assembly Members opted for the most ambitious scenario for transport which saw the eventual creation of a citywide zero emission zone, 100% of buses and cars operating on electric, car clubs, universal electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and discouraging of private car ownership. 88% of Assembly Members agreed with the proposal that the Government should bring forward the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030 from its national legal target of 2040.

The Zero Emission Zone is part of a wider local transport plan which aims to improve connectivity, reduce emissions and support sustainable growth across Oxford and Oxfordshire.  Earlier this year, both councils consulted on their Connecting Oxford proposals to tackle congestion and improve public transport connections into and across Oxford. Together the two schemes aim to create zero emission transport system across Oxford and Oxfordshire. 

As part of its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030, Oxfordshire County Council has already started switching to an electric fleet, with the aim of being electric for most of its cars and vans by 2024 and 2028 respectively. New e-bikes have also joined the fleet meaning that staff unused to cycling can get to local meetings more easily under their own steam.

The City Council’s wholly-owned direct services company, Oxford Direct Services Ltd (ODS) has committed to electrifying at least 25% of their fleet by 2023. The City Council currently has 50 hybrid and electric vehicles in its fleet. This has contributed to the reduction of the City Council’s emissions by 10% in the last year, and by 40% in the last five years.

December 2020 - Red Zone

From 1 December 2020, a charging scheme for the Red Zone could operate between 7am-7pm.

Under the proposals, zero emission vehicles would be able to drive in the Red Zone, which consists of Bonn Square, Queen Street, Cornmarket, Ship Street, St Michael’s Street, and New Inn Hall Street – free of charge.

Non-compliant vehicles would have to pay £10 per day (rising to £20 per day from December 2024) to enter the zone between 7am-7pm.

Map of proposed red zone



A breakdown of the suggested daily charges below:

Suggested daily ZEZ charges


1 December 2020 to 30 November 2024

1 December 2024 -2030

2030 onwards





Light commercial vehicle




Heavy goods vehicle




Moped or motorcycle




Blue badge holder




Vehicles registered to businesses within the zone




Red Zone residents’ vehicles




The charging scheme would be enforced by Oxfordshire County Council and can be tailored to allow discounts and ‘grace periods’ for particular vehicles or types of road user, such as residents and businesses in the Red Zone. 

The councils are considering discounts or exemptions for blue badge holders entering the zone, vehicles owned by residents living in the zone, and vehicles registered to businesses within the zone until 2024.

Residents living within the Red Zone would be offered at least 90% discounts on charges applied up to 2030, allowing them 10 years to transition to zero emission vehicles. Residents would pay either the daily charge or a one-off annual charge of £250 (until 2024) and £500 (from 2024 to 2030).  The cost of any on-street resident permit charges paid would be deducted from these charges.

Vehicles registered to businesses within the Red Zone would pay no charge until December 2024, to allow the transition to zero emissions fleet. However, deliveries in non-zero emission vehicles may be made free of charge outside of the operating hours of the Red Zone.

Under the proposals, a compliant vehicle will be considered vehicles which match the Government’s Plug-In grant criteria - allowing some hybrids and hydrogen vehicles, as well as electric vehicles. 

Income raised by the charging scheme must, by law, be used to improve local transport.  The councils propose to use any income to support businesses and residents in the Red Zone in making the transition to zero emission transport.  This could include: installing or providing grants for vehicle charging points, supporting freight consolidation, and providing financial assistance for residents & businesses to switch to zero emission vehicles.

Previous measures of enforcement considered in the Red Zone included a prohibition of driving for all vehicles, except zero emission vehicles, and parking and loading restrictions on street at certain times within the zone. The final draft proposals overcome the challenges raised during previous consultations and allows for discounts for certain vehicle types or users.

2021/22 – Green Zone

In 2021/22 the councils are considering an expansion to the ZEZ to cover the remainder of the city centre – also known as the Green Zone.

The Green Zone would operate alongside the Red Zone, with separate requirements.

This could involve a charging scheme with:

  • Daily charges for high emission vehicles - worse than Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol
  • A discounted daily charge for low emission vehicles – Euro 6 diesel, Euro 4 petrol or better, and/or for vehicles which comply with the London Ultra Low Emission Zone standards.
  • No charge for zero emission vehicles


Map of proposed green zone


Discounts would be available for residents’ cars, vans or motorcycles.

Greater detail around the implementation of the Green Zone and how it will work will be subject to further technical work, and consultation in 2020.

Supporting schemes

Both councils have been working with partners to support zero emission transport in Oxford, and have been upgrading their own fleets to zero emission where possible.

Projects to support the Zero Emission Zone include: facilitating a £41m trial of a giant battery to store grid energy and power thousands of electric vehicles via rapid charging stations, £128,500 towards testing of low cost innovative air quality sensors to map air pollution and exposure, £122,500 towards advice for businesses on zero emission delivery and servicing solutions, £500,000 towards electric charging points for hackney carriages and private hire vehicles, and £2.3 million towards electric and low emission buses.

To find out more about the proposals, including FAQs, and have your say visit our Zero Emission Zone pages.

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