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Study launched to reduce Oxford city centre emissions

The £30,000 study will look at whether petrol and diesel vehicles should be banned from the city centre by 2020

A new study looking into banning all petrol and diesel vehicles from the centre of Oxford has been launched today.

The £30,000 study, which aims to investigate options for introducing a Zero Emission Zone in Oxford from 2020, has been jointly commissioned by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

According to Oxford City Council, the study seeks to engage with bus, delivery and taxi companies—and will propose a range of options for how the Zero Emissions Zone can be introduced. It is envisaged that a zone will start small and expand as technology develops in order to facilitate zero emission travel.

While Oxford has been a low emission zone since 2014, the city was included in a World Health Organisation report as one of ten cities with unacceptable levels of pollution. As well as this, European Union targets for air pollution are currently being breached at 32 per cent of 75 locations monitored across Oxford.

It is hoped that a Zero Emission Zone would reduce emissions from transport by restricting access for polluting vehicles and encouraging uptake of zero emission vehicles.

However, this is not the first scheme designed to lower pollution levels in the city, which have a significant impact on health by contributing to a range of illnesses, as well as having an economic effect. The impacts of air pollution in the UK estimated to cost between £9 billion and £19 billion annually.

In January, the introduction of driverless vehicles to the Oxford transport system was proposed by Jeremy Long, the chairman of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP).

In an interview with the Oxford Times, Long said that connections with the university research departments and local car industry could provide a platform for Oxford to become leader in the field of autonomous vehicles.

Despite the idea of driverless ‘pods’ being omitted from the study, John Tanner, Oxford City Council Executive Board Member for A Clean and Green Oxford, says he is “thrilled” the study is taking place. This is despite Tanner previous branding the idea as “ridiculous”, and claiming in 2015 that the City Council would not support “a blanket ban” because “ordinary” cars were not responsible for pollution.

Tanner added: “Air pollution has a significant impact on the health of residents and visitors to Oxford.

“Our vision is to create a city centre that people can live and work in without worrying about how vehicle emissions will impact on their health.”

“The Zero Emission Zone will achieve this, which is why I am thrilled that this study is now taking place.”

In addition, the Road Haulage Association also called the proposals “unworkable”.

A spokesman for the County Council said the ban would initially only apply on a small number of roads, and the timescales would change if technology was not advanced enough.

Councillor David Nimmo-Smith, Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet member for Environment, said: “There has been an improvement in air quality in the city in recent years and there is clearly a need to carry this trend on.

“The improvements clearly illustrate that measures to improve air quality, such as the introduction of the Low Emission Zone, have worked. However, there is more we all need to do to improve.”

The study is expected to be completed later this spring, and its aim, as set out in the 2015 Oxford Transport Strategy, is to introduce the Zero Emission Zone in phases between 2020 and 2035.

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