Oxford is planning to steal a march on London to become the UK city with the most ambitious plans to tackle air pollution, authorities announced yesterday.
The city unveiled plans for the 2020 introduction of what it claims will be the world’s first Zero Emission Zone.
Oxford said from the beginning of 2020 key streets around the city will ban all vehicles emitting pollution, with plans for the scheme to extend across the whole city centre by 2035. It would effectively mean only cyclists, hydrogen and battery electric vehicles would be allowed on Oxford’s central streets, taking pollution levels down to “near background levels”.
As such, the proposed regime would be a stricter than the Ultra Low Emission Zone London Mayor Sadiq Khan is preparing to introduce in the capital in September 2020.
“The County and City together are proposing a staged Zero Emission Zone from 2020 in the city centre, with additional measures to bring down chronic pollution in St Clement’s Street, High Street and St Aldate’s,” Councillor John Tanner, an executive board member on the City Council, explained in a statement.
“All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic. Everyone needs to do their bit – from national government and local authorities, to businesses and residents – to end this public health emergency.”
If the plans go ahead, authorities expect them to have a startling impact on air quality, delivering cuts of up to three-quarters in the levels of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide by 2035.
Like many cities across the UK, parts of Oxford are still regularly in breach of legal guidelines set by the European Union on air quality – and under the government’s clean air strategy released earlier this year local authorities are mandated to take the lead in tackling air pollution in their area.
However the proposal, which is now out for a six-week public consultation, is contingent on new technologies coming forward to make a zero-emission zone “practical”, the council admitted. For example, the proposals would ban any delivery vehicles – including heavy goods vehicles – from the centre of the capital, but zero-emission alternatives to such trucks remain in their infancy.
The council has also said it will need more funding from central government to boost the infrastructure needed to support its zero-emission vision, including more electric vehicle charging points.
The news coincided with a new report released yesterday by the European Environment Agency (EEA), which reveals a slow improvement in air quality levels across the trading bloc is not moving fast enough to prevent ongoing harm to citizens’ health.
Based on data from more than 2,500 monitoring stations, the latest estimates suggest fine particulate matter pollution were responsible for around 428,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2014, almost 400,000 of which were in EU member states.