Oxford Zero Emission Zone: everything motorists need to know

Petrol and diesel cars will be banned from parts of Oxford city centre from 2020 under proposals announced today by the city council.

If the plans go ahead, certain areas of Oxford will only be open to drivers of zero-emission electric cars. It will beat London to being the first city in the world with a Zero Emission Zone.

In a joint proposal by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, petrol and diesel cars will be banned from Oxford city centre in phases. It’ll initially start with certain vehicle types (including cars) on a small number of streets from 2020, moving towards a ban on all non-electric vehicles across the entire city centre by 2035. This is five years earlier than plans announced earlier this year to ban all petrol and diesel cars from 2040.

“Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents,” said Oxford City Council’s executive board member for a ‘clean and green Oxford’, councillor John Tanner.

“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.”

Oxford city centre currently has illegally-high levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide, says the council. This contributes to diseases including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, leading to around 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. The zero emission zone would cut the nitrogen dioxide level in Oxford city centre’s most polluted street, George Street, by 74 percent by 2035, bringing it well below the legal limit.

The managing director of bus operator Stagecoach in Oxfordshire has said it welcomes the proposals.

“Stagecoach has invested heavily in hybrid and low emission buses in recent years and already has one of the cleanest bus fleets in the country,” said Martin Sutton.

“We are fully committed to working with the city and county councils to achieve further improvements in air quality and we are pleased to see that all vehicle types are included in these latest proposals.

“There is still some way to go before zero-emission technology for buses is fully developed and we look forward to working with both City and County Councils to explore what can be achieved and in what timescales.”

However, RAC roads policy spokesman Nicholas Lyes has questioned the radical approach being taken by Oxford. “The council would be better placed to first identify those vehicles that are most responsible for creating city pollution rather than simply implementing an outright ban on all non-zero emission vehicles from certain streets,” he said.

“This will also mean that local residents who have invested in cleaner hybrid vehicles will now be targeted, which seems both unfair and an unwelcome disincentive as the use of these vehicles should be encouraged.

“There is little doubt that air pollution in our towns and cities must be reduced, but this should be done in a way that is fair to drivers, and targets the most polluting vehicles first.”

London is set to bring in an Ultra Low Emission Zone from April 2019, banning the most polluting vehicles from the centre of the capital.

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