Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published final draft proposals for 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 from 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 7am-7pm, 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 – 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.