Oxford plans to pioneer zero emissions

Oxford city centre could become one of the world’s first zero emission zones within two decades under new proposals being consulted on by the city and county councils.

The authorities are seeking responses from businesses, fleet operators and local residents on the scheme, which will roll out in phases from 2020 until 2035 when all non-zero emission vehicles will be banned across the centre.

This, it is hoped, will bring air pollution levels in the city down to ‘near background levels’ whereas currently some parts of Oxford are failing to meet European legal limits. For example its most polluted road – George Street – could see a 74% reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels in 20 years.

“Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents,” commented Oxford City Council executive board member John Tanner. “A step change is urgently needed; the zero emission zone is that step change.”

Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for environment Yvonne Constance added: “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.”

The proposal for a zero emission zone comes after the launch of a low emission zone in Oxford city centre in 2014. Following a six week public consultation which gets under way this week, the final plans are due to be published next year.

The councils are already planning to deploy hundreds of electric vehicle charging points while other initiatives under consideration to complement the zero emission zone include a potential congestion charge and workplace parking levy.

A spokesman for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership commented: “Schemes such as Oxford’s have the potential to accelerate the shift to low emission and lower carbon vehicles. We expect this announcement will be followed by other cities, particularly where there are challenging air quality problems.”

However the Green Party has criticised the Labour run city council for simultaneously supporting measures that it claims will attract more cars and pollution into the city centre, including a decision to increase the number of car parking spaces.

Oxfordshire Green Party transport spokesman councillor Dick Wolff said: “Planning for better air quality in 2020 or 2035 is all very well but it is difficult to take such proposals seriously when the council is taking decisions now which are significantly worsening air quality.”

♦ Government has published a Clean Growth Strategy this week setting out how it intends to drive forward the economy while continuing to tackle carbon emissions. It involves new funding to be invested in low carbon innovation, including in transport.

Consultant WSP’s managing director of energy and industry Frazer Mackay welcomed the Government’s recognition of the potential of technology in its strategy. But he said: “It remains unclear exactly how it intends to get us to an all electric future.”

Environmental law firm Client Earth added that the strategy fails to put the UK on track to meet legally binding emissions targets. “Ministers do seem to be trying to make up lost ground with their new strategy, but they have not done enough. ClientEarth will be considering its legal options,” said lawyer Jonathan Church.