Authorities in Oxford plan ‘world’s first’ zero emission zone

Lucy Purdy

City and county councils in Oxford have submitted joint proposals to introduce a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre. They say it would be the first of its kind in the world, and could lead to “historic” reductions in air pollution

Oxford city council and Oxfordshire county council have put forward a proposal to introduce a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre. They believe it would be the world’s first.

The Zero Emission Zone proposals ban emitting vehicles from Oxford city centre in phases, beginning with certain vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020. As vehicle technology develops, it would move to all vehicle types across the whole city centre in 2035.

Representatives of the councils said it would take air pollution levels in Oxford city centre down to near-background levels. In the city centre’s most polluted street, George Street for example, a 74 per cent reduction in toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels is expected by 2035.


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On Monday (16 October), the city and county councils will launch a six-week public consultation on the proposals – gathering views on the speed of the implementation, and the vehicle types and roads affected. The final scheme will be published next year.

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.”

A step change is urgently needed; the Zero Emission Zone is that step change

The EU 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.

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.

Transport for London is planning to introduce the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone in the capital in September 2020.


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