Oxfordshire responds to national air quality question

Oxfordshire County Council has stressed the important contribution walking and cycling can make in tackling air pollution in response to a Government consultation.

The comments are included in the council’s response to the Government’s revised plans for tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities, which are out for consultation at the moment.

Emissions of this pollutant are thought to have significant adverse health effects, particularly on people with heart and respiratory conditions.

Less progress in the UK than expected

Transport is the source of 80% of roadside nitrogen dioxide emissions. Progress in reducing these in the UK has been less than anticipated because the Euro 5 standards for diesel cars and vans have not delivered real on-the-road reductions in line with the reductions achieved at vehicle testing facilities. This has gone hand in hand with significant growth in the number of diesel cars and vans.

In its response to the Government consultation the county council has stressed the need for a holistic approach that tackles other pollutants in addition to nitrogen dioxide, notably particulates (tiny micro-particles) which are also hazardous to health, as well as being consistent with measures to combat climate change.

Award winning Low-Emission Zone

The county council, working in partnership with the city council and bus operators, introduced an award-winning Low Emission Zone in 2014 and Oxford now has some of the cleanest buses in the country.

The county is also working with the city on a study to consider a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre. Looking ahead, investment in facilities for walking and cycling will also play a part.

The county council has therefore also sought clarification of the apparent change in policy (since the Government’s 2015 Air Quality Strategy) on charging Clean Air Zones. These are zones where charges would apply to more polluting vehicles (mainly older diesels).

Stronger commitment needed

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment, said:

“Although the strategy includes some good points, we would like to see greater emphasis on the role central government will play in tackling air pollution as well as a stronger commitment to resources for local authorities so that we can play our part.

“We would also stress the importance of walking and cycling in helping to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment. We need a holistic approach that also tackles other pollutants, notably health-damaging particulates, and that is consistent with efforts to combat climate change.

“The new approach suggested by the Government to charging in Clean Air Zones is more cautious, advocating these only where non-charging measures are less effective and where there are no unintended consequences. We have asked for clarification on this.

“It is important that there is a clear and consistent policy framework on which local authorities can base their own efforts.”