Oxfordshire aims to be a national leader in tackling air pollution with ‘zero emission zone’

As leaders from England’s most car-polluted cities meet the environment secretary, Michael Gove, today, Oxfordshire councils are pushing ahead with bold proposals to create the world’s first zero-emission zone in Oxford and initiatives to tackle air quality in other congestion hotspots in the county, including Abingdon, Henley and Wallingford.

The county and Oxford city councils are currently looking at ambitious proposals to create a zero emission zone (ZEZ) in the city. This would be a long-term project to enable road users and transport operators to plan for the necessary changes, including the use of zero emission vehicles.

Despite a 37% per cent reduction in levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide across Oxford in the last decade, parts of the city centre are still failing to meet the legal limit on the pollutant.

The proposals also assume the technology and take up of zero emission electrical vehicles will continue to accelerate. The first steps in creating a zero-emission zone in Oxford could be in place as early as 2020.

Public consultation in 2017 showed strong support for the ZEZ but also emphasised the need for the two councils to support businesses, transport operators and the public in making the transition. The ambition is to ensure that Oxfordshire becomes a leader in tackling transport challenges linked to air pollution.

Oxfordshire County Council's Director for Planning and Place Sue Halliwell said:

“Oxford has been identified as a city with a major air quality problem and we are looking at a range of long-term measures to tackle congestion and reduce pollution, including a zero emission zone.

“We are delighted that the environment secretary is making this issue a national priority and believe Oxfordshire has an opportunity to become a national leader in tackling air pollution through bold transport initiatives.”

The ZEZ is part of a strategy to reduce congestion and pollution in Oxford by rolling out segregated cycle routes, bus priority, electric charging points, and other measures.

The city and county councils have agreed in principle to progress the plans to the next stage, following discussions with transport operators and other stakeholders. Detailed proposals are now being developed for further consultation with stakeholders, including residents and local businesses.

There are several air quality hotspots outside Oxford, including Henley, Wallingford, Watlington, Abingdon, Botley and Marcham. Options for tackling air quality in those areas are actively being developed by South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils and the county council. In November 2017, South Oxfordshire District Council adopted a Low Emission Strategy.