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Final draft proposals published for Oxford Zero Emission Zone

Final draft proposals published for Oxford Zero Emission Zone. Image: Radcliffe Camera in Oxford

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published the final draft proposals for the Oxford Zero Emission Zone, the UK’s first city-centre Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ), to be introduced later this year.

The proposed Red Zone marks the next step towards cleaner air in Oxford and a dramatic reduction in the health risks for people living and working in the city. It is also expected that the ZEZ will improve air pollution levels in towns and villages across Oxfordshire because the buses and taxis and other vehicles that serve Oxford also serve towns and villages across the county.

In addition, a Green Zone is proposed for introduction in 2021/22, covering the rest of the city centre.

Both councils have now launched an informal consultation on a draft final scheme for the Red Zone, including the proposed charging and enforcement arrangements, which could begin in December 2020.

This follows a year of increasing focus locally, nationally, and globally about the harmful impact of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from vehicles, and follows both the City Council and County Council’s recognising a climate emergency and making commitments to cut carbon emissions.

The ZEZ aims to reduce Oxford’s toxic air pollution levels, tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health of those living, working, and visiting in Oxford and beyond.

The new proposals consider the Red Zone, which covers a small area of the city centre and will start in December 2020 for all vehicles. They also propose the creation of a Green Zone covering the rest of the city centre in 2021/22, which would be accessed for free by zero-emission vehicles and with discounted charges for vehicles which comply with the London Ultra Low Emission Zone standards.

The key points of the latest proposals are:

  • The introduction of a charging scheme in the Red Zone between 7:00AM to 7:00PM, with a £10 charge for non-compliant vehicles entering the zone.
  • Discounts for all blue badge holders entering the zone until December 2024.
  • Exemptions for businesses registered in the Red Zone until December 2024, followed by a discount until December 2030.
  • A 90% discount for residents living in the zone until December 2030.
  • Buses and Oxford licensed Hackney Carriages which drive within the planned Zero Emission have already agreed timelines for zero-emissions fleets across Oxford and will not be subject to charges.

The informal consultation on the Red Zone will be open from Tuesday 7 January to Friday 31 January, with the councils looking for feedback on the level the charges are set at, whether the discounts are appropriate, the suggested hours of operation for the charging scheme, what future phases of the Zero Emission Zone should include, and when they should be implemented.

The Red Zone will then go to formal consultation in March, and the draft charging order published, with both councils making a formal decision on implementation in the spring, which could mean the scheme coming into effect in December 2020.

Buses and taxis are already on agreed journeys towards zero-emission fleets. From January 2020, all Hackney Carriage Vehicles licenced in Oxford will be moving towards becoming zero-emission by 2025, with phased emission standards. The councils are working with bus companies operating in Oxford to move towards zero-emission by 2035 at the latest, but are working to achieve this by 2030 if possible.

The Oxford Zero Emission Zone is a similar type of scheme to that used in London to enforce emission requirements. Several other cities in Britain and other countries are looking at ways to improve air quality by restricting vehicle access in similar ways.

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford, Oxford City Council said: “2020 will be a crunch year for our climate and all our futures. We face a climate emergency that threatens all of our futures. For the sake of everyone in Oxford, and especially our children’s lungs, we must clean up the lethal air we’re all breathing. Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone will come into force this year and help make 2020 the year we make a game-changing difference.

“With our strengthened Zero Emission Zone and the introduction of hundreds of supporting charging points, our medieval city is leading the electric vehicle revolution. Our two councils have taken a fresh look at the big idea of charging commuters to drive polluting vehicles in and out of the city centre. And we’re listening to Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change by speeding up our journey to a city-wide Zero Emission Zone.

“Local government isn’t prepared to delay action. Our two councils are working together to enhance lives here in Oxford and across the market towns and villages of Oxfordshire.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment, Oxfordshire County Council said: “I am really pleased that at the start of the New Year we are on track to introduce the Zero Emission Zone in Oxford by the end of 2020. Not only will this project make a huge difference to the quality of life and health of people living and working in the city centre, we are showing that it is possible as we start to respond seriously to the climate emergency. This is a great way to start an important decade of climate action.”

To find out more about the proposals, including FAQs, and have your say go to www.oxford.gov.uk/zez

Final draft proposals published for Oxford Zero Emission Zone. Image: Pedestrians on the historic Cornmarket Street in Oxford's city centre
Pedestrians on the historic Cornmarket Street in Oxford's city centre