Plans for Zero Emission Zone in Oxford move ahead in the journey to zero emissions

Published: Wednesday, 16th January 2019

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published updated proposals for a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre.

The updated proposals follow 15 months of listening to businesses, residents, transport operators and health experts in Oxfordshire.

The proposals under consideration set a journey to zero transport emissions in the city by 2035. From 2020 onwards, a ZEZ could apply to some vehicles and journey types, with restrictions increased gradually to all vehicles in the following years to create a largely transport emissions-free city centre by 2035.

The aim of the ZEZ is to tackle Oxford’s toxic air pollution and protect the health of everyone who lives in, works in and visits the city. It is also expected that the ZEZ will improve air pollution levels across Oxfordshire because the buses and taxis that serve Oxford also serve towns and villages across the county.

From 2020, under the proposals, all non-zero emission vehicles could be banned during certain hours from parking and loading on public highway in an inner zone, while in a larger zone the requirement will be Euro 6 for buses. Citywide taxi emissions standards will apply from 2020, with increasingly improving standards to 2025.

The vision towards zero emissions sees an acceleration from 2022 to 2035, when the councils are considering further possible measures for non-zero and high emission vehicles to encourage a faster conversion towards low emission and zero emission vehicles. These ideas, like the development of the first stage of ZEZ will be thoroughly researched, tested and consulted on with businesses and residents.

The first step on the journey to zero will be taken when City councillors decide on the Hackney carriage licensing changes this month (January 2019), which would see, as part of a phased approach, the introduction of zero-emission capable hackney carriage taxis in the city centre by 2022.

The two councils had announced a joint vision for a ZEZ in 2017 and have been working together to create a scheme that is both effective and deliverable.

Oxford’s ZEZ would be one of the first in the world to be introduced. Several other cities in Britain and other countries are looking at ways to improve air quality by restricting vehicle access in similar ways.

The journey to zero emissions

As originally proposed, the scheme will be phased. Following public engagement, the two councils are looking at ways to cover more vehicle types and over a larger area. This plan, if approved, will maximise benefits to air quality in a shorter time.

Map of Oxford showing the boundaries of the Zero Emission Zone

Illustrative zone map

The proposed ZEZ, if approved, will cover two areas of the city centre (see above) and will see emission requirements on vehicles entering Oxford city centre with restrictions increased gradually between 2020 and 2035:

2020

Restrictions in the Red Zone requiring vehicles to be zero-emission capable to be permitted to park or load on street at certain times .

The city centre Low Emission Zone (LEZ) will be extended, across the Green Zone, to require local buses to be Euro 6 for nitrogen dioxide. This could be enforced through bus operator licensing.

Hackney carriage taxi drivers required to have taxis of at least Euro 4 standard to renew their licence; and Euro 4, Euro 6 or zero-emission capable to receive a new licence. This will be enforced through taxi operator licensing.

2022

The councils are considering measures for non-local buses, vans and lorries to encourage adoption of zero-emission vehicles or place restrictions on non-zero emission vehicles entering the Green Zone.

Hackney carriage taxi drivers will be required to have at least Euro 4 standard to renew their licence, and zero-emission capable vehicles to receive a new licence.

By 2025

The councils are considering extending the emission-based measures within the Green Zone to include cars.

2025

Hackney carriage taxi drivers will be required to have zero-emission capable vehicles to renew their licence or receive a new licence.

2035

The councils are considering restricting all non-zero emission capable vehicles – including all buses, vans, lorries and cars – from entering the Green Zone.

The purpose of setting an end goal in 2035 is to provide residents and businesses in Oxford with certainty about the future direction of travel on the city’s journey to zero, enabling them to make decisions about their vehicle purchases now.

The ZEZ restrictions will not apply to emergency vehicles and exemptions are expected to be approved for Blue Badge Holders.

Big conversation on road to zero emissions continues

This phased approach follows extensive consultation with city centre businesses, Covered Market traders, bus companies, taxi drivers and operators, University of Oxford colleges, environment groups, groups representing people with disabilities, and other stakeholders.

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.

The two councils have also been talking to other local authorities who are considering or implementing clean air zones to learn from their experiences.

Over the coming months, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council will continue to consult on, and carry out further studies to develop the plans, to produce a fully-costed, effective and deliverable during 2019. Residents and businesses will then be formally consulted on the new proposals once they have been finalised.

A final decision on the introduction of the ZEZ is subject to approval by councillors at both City and County councils.

Tackling air pollution

Nitrogen dioxide is the local air pollutant of most concern in Oxford, and the only pollutant for which European limits continue to be breached in the city. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants warn there is no safe level of nitrogen dioxide.

A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found that outside air pollution – of which about 75% comes from road traffic in Oxford – cuts short 40,000 lives a year in the UK.

In 2017, significant decreases of nitrogen dioxide levels were observed in the city centre, although several monitored locations in the city still registered levels above the legal limit. 

Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Executive Board Member for A Safer and Greener Environment, said:Oxford's pioneering approach to cleaning up polluted air and saving lives takes a leap forward with the development of our Zero Emission Zone. Our councils are united in the common cause of driving down toxic and harmful emissions because we care about the health of Oxfordshire and we’re listening to the staggering response to our joint public consultation.

“I’m excited by Oxford’s bold journey to zero. Our Hackney taxi fleet will be transformed from being 0% zero-emissions capable to 100% over the next five years. From next year, under the proposals, only zero-emission vehicles will be able enter the city centre to park and load when our streets will be at their busiest. And we’re considering strengthening our original plans by banning heavy goods vehicles when footfall in the city centre will be highest because they contribute nearly a fifth of harmful emissions. Oxford is proud to be leading the way to zero emissions for cities like London, Paris, and Madrid.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “This is the first step in our ambition towards cutting emissions in Oxford as part of our wider transport plan, which envisages cleaner, greener, healthier and more efficient travelling in Oxfordshire. We will be looking at ways to expand the Zero Emission Zone in Oxford while improving access to where people need to go and making their journeys easier. We recognise the benefits that the scheme delivers for the whole of Oxfordshire. If we can reduce emissions from vehicles in the city they go out to market towns and villages and take the benefits of lower air pollution and improvement in public health to the whole county.”

Sajad Khan, Secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxicab Association (COLTA), said: “We share the ambition of Oxford City Council to reduce air pollution across Oxfordshire. For the health of our city and our drivers, we want to modernise our full fleet to electric when possible. The transformation of Oxford's Hackney carriage fleet needs careful management so that our business can thrive. We welcome the funding which the City Council has secured to install new electric charging points and support the trade to transition to electric.

“Over the last months, COLTA and the City Council have engaged in direct, frequent, and productive discussions to make the ZEZ a practical and workable reality which Black Cab drivers of Oxford can proudly help to achieve. It's been a positive relationship with our city councillors and officers within the City Council who have approached these conversations and listened to drivers, and worked with us to make the transition to zero-emission practical and possible for our drivers.

“This phased approach is much more reasonable than the initial plan as it gives drivers certainty and direction of travel and enables our drivers to plan their future vehicle purchases now. We will continue our engagement with the City Council as the ZEZ develops, share our experiences, and work together to achieve a practical Zone for all Hackney Carriage drivers and Oxford.”

Chris Coleman, Managing Director of Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, said: “Buses have a key role to play in boosting the region’s air quality, as well as addressing damaging congestion, growing our economy and bringing communities together.  The latest Euro 6 buses are cleaner than new Euro 6 diesel cars and can carry up to 20 times more people.

“Across the UK, Stagecoach has invested more than £1billion in greener buses over the past decade, many of which have been introduced in Oxfordshire. We look forward to working in partnership with the council to deliver an even better local environment and encourage more people to switch from the car to greener and smarter bus travel.”

Phil Southall, Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company, said: “I very much welcome the phased approach that the local authorities have taken to introducing the Zero Emission Zone and this makes its delivery challenging but much more realistic.

“Whilst a number of our buses already meet the Euro 6 standard and others will be upgraded in the coming months, we still need to purchase further vehicles to deliver an Ultra-Low Emission Zone in late 2020 but we are confident that we can achieve this within the time frame.

“Partnership working will be important in our journey to zero beyond that and we look forward to working with both authorities to continually improve the air that we breathe to add to the good work already done to date.”

Paul Birtles, Chairman of the Covered Market Tenants’ Association, said: “Traders in the Covered Market fully support measures proposed by Oxford City and Oxfordshire County Councils to reduce pollution and improve air quality in the city centre and acknowledge the difficult task of balancing the aims of a ZEZ scheme with the need to maintain access for businesses, residents and visitors alike.

“We are naturally pleased that following the consultation process the original proposal for the Red Zone has been amended to accommodate our concerns. We will continue our discussions to find ways to facilitate the use of vehicles to service the Covered Market compatible with the objectives of ZEZ.

“It is important that the consultation process continues to ensure that decisions taken regarding the introduction of emission – based measures in the Green Zone in 2022 are well considered and viable as we all embark on this journey to establish a zero emission city centre.”

Dr Timothy Hinks, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the John Radcliffe Hospital, said: “The evidence is clear: air pollution is killing people of all ages in Oxford and across the world. Most pollution is invisible but it is real. Each of us is breathing 11,000 litres of air each day, and if you live or work in central Oxford that air is toxic. It has multiple effects on our health: contributing to lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and dementia. The young and the old are most at risk. Those who suffer most are people with lung diseases like asthma, where there are clear links between high air pollution levels and asthma attacks. Asthma kills over 1,400 people each year in the UK, one of the worst rates in Europe: an emergency we need to tackle.

“When it comes to air pollution we need to act now and think long term. So the Zero Emissions Zone is exactly the kind of local, forward thinking initiative we need to see in UK. I’m delighted, for the sake of our patients in Oxfordshire, that Oxford is taking a lead here.”

Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist for Greenpeace UK, and Oxford resident, said: “Cities are on the frontline of our air pollution crisis and so it’s great to see Oxford leading the way in the transition to cleaner cities and zero-emission vehicles. The government’s own analysis says that clean air zones that remove the most polluting vehicles from urban centres are one of the most cost-effective ways to tackle the problem. This leadership from Oxford, and the conversation that needs to be had with the residents, is an important step in the right direction. As this crisis continues to cloak our towns and cities we need to see action like this, backed up with resources and more ambition from Government, replicated up and down our country.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, said: "The need to tackle air pollution in Oxford and other cities is clear and urgent. A Zero Emission Zone for Oxford makes very good sense for improving the health of residents and making the city an even better place to live. Let's hope this can now move forward without delay, so everyone can start enjoying the sweet benefits of clean air.”

Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40, said: “Air pollution caused by petrol and diesel vehicles is killing millions of people in cities around the world, and threatening even greater loss of life through climate change. We have the technological solutions and now we need more cities like Oxford willing to take the political leadership to use them.”

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said: “Oxford, like many other UK towns and cities, has illegal and unhealthy levels of air pollution and the Zero Emissions Zone is a bold step to clean up the air. Supporting taxi drivers to shift to cleaner vehicles is essential, as is the switch to cleaner buses, so the joint approach by the City and County councils is something other local leaders can learn from.”

Councillor Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council, said: “Like Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone consultation, Southampton’s Clean Air Zone consultation clearly showed that the cleaner air expectations of residents and businesses in cities go beyond achieving legal compliance. As the first signatory of Oxford’s Charter for Cleaner Air, Southampton shares a commitment to innovation, launching a new Green City Charter to address a range of public health concerns and cleaning our port, ensuring all buses meet the highest emission standard, and revising taxi licensing conditions to remove the most polluting vehicles. Dirty air is a silent killer and our councils are taking tough decisions, sharing ideas, and innovating solutions. I look forward to Oxford sharing details of its Zero Emission Zone at the Key Cities Clean Air summit hosted by Southampton City Council in February 2019.”

To find out more about the Zero Emission Zone proposals, visit our website.