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Oxford to go emissions-free under new council plans

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Oxford City Council have announced that they will start efforts to ban all non-zero emissions vehicles from the roads of Oxford, making the city the world’s first emissions-free urban area.

The plan involves a gradual ban on petrol and diesel cars and vans from roads in the city centre, starting with Cornmarket and Queen Street in 2020 and eventually encompassing the whole city centre by 2035.

Some of Oxford’s busiest roads currently exceed European regulations on safe limits of pollution – George Street, the worst offender in the city, averages at almost 150% the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide. High Street, St. Clement’s, and St Aldate’s also all broke the EU regulation limit.

The plan relies on the development of green technology between 2020 and the stated end point of 2035 in order to allow HGVs to meet the zero-emission goals as well.

Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas emitted by combustion engines, that has been linked to obesity, asthma and heart problems, and is estimated by the Royal College of Physicians to contribute to around 40,000 deaths in the UK every year.

Rupert Stuart-Smith, President of the Oxford Climate Society, said: “Oxford Climate Society welcomes Oxford City Council’s proposed Zero Emissions Zone to cut the amount of toxic air breathed in by students and residents in central Oxford. The Council’s action is certainly a step in the right direction towards protecting the long-term well-being of the City’s residents.

“However, the City Council’s own feasibility study indicates that the planned measures will be insufficient in the short term and that air pollution levels will remain illegally high in the city centre for the next 8 years. With many of Oxford’s students living and travelling on streets polluted with toxic air, and with nitrogen dioxide levels more than 50% above the legal limit on George Street in 2015, further action is urgently needed to protect us from our polluted air.”

Councillor John Tanner said: “Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents. A step change is urgently needed; the Zero Emission Zone is that step change.

“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. Everyone who uses Oxford centre has the right to breathe clean air.

The announcement comes after the government announced plans to totally ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars and vans in the UK by 2040. More recently, Transport for London announced an extension of their current low-emissions zone to become and ultra-low emission zone from 2020.

Phil Southall, Managing Director of the Oxford Bus Company, said: “One of our core values is being socially responsible to the people we serve and the environment we all share, and so we always embrace modern technology to ensure we are as green as possible.

The Green Party’s delegation in Oxford City Council had a mixed response to the announcement. Green Transport Spokesperson Cllr Dick Wolff said in an emailed statement: “Planning for better air quality in 2020 and 2025 is all very well but it is difficult to take such proposals seriously when the Council is taking decisions NOW which are significantly worsening air quality.”

Cars have had a long history of difficulty in Oxford, and have been subject to a huge number of bans and restrictions in recent years as the city council try to promote more environmentally-friendly – and safer – forms of transport.

Last year, the roundabout between Magdalen Bridge and Cowley Road was found to be the second-most dangerous for cyclists in Britain, with 45 serious accidents between 2011 and 2015. The city has also recently spent over a million pounds on upgrading the facilities for electric car charging across the city.

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