Polluting cars are set to be banned from Oxford city centre in a newly-announced scheme starting in 2020. The City Council’s plans would make Oxford the world’s first zero emissions zone.
The initiative aims to exclude all petrol and diesel cars, including taxis and buses, from six city centre streets. The area would include Queen Street, New Inn Hall Street, Ship Street, St Michael’s Street, and Market Street. Students from colleges inside the new zero emission zone, including St Peter’s and Jesus, would not be able to drive to their colleges when moving in at the beginning of term.
This area is projected to expand in several stages over the following 15 years, and would eventually encompass the majority of the city centre.
By 2030, at the proposed scheme’s end point, the zero emissions zone would stretch from the train station to Magdalen College, and north to the Museum of Natural History. 23 Oxford colleges would eventually be affected by the ban including Christ Church, New, and St John’s.
Buses using the route will be replaced by non-fossil fuel alternatives. In total, the proposals are expected to cost £14 million.
The plans seek to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the city centre. The zero emissions zone is anticipated to reduce pollution by up to 74 per cent on certain streets and improve the air quality of the city.
Several streets, including George Street and High Street, are currently above the European Union’s legal pollution limit of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre.
Oxford City Council environment chief, John Tanner, told Cherwell: “In some city centre streets, the pollution is still above the safe level so we really had to take action because this is a health issue which is affecting hundreds of people.
“Young children, people who are unwell, and elderly people are already affected. Some die earlier because of this pollution so it’s clearly something we’ve got to act on.
“Also, it fits in with our determination to join in the campaign to tackle climate change because we’re encouraging people to switch from using fossil fuels to using green electricity.”
When asked about the impact on students moving in to their university accommodation, Tanner said: “Either parents will have to use electric vehicles or they’re going to have to walk a bit further, and carry things a bit further.
“This is something where everyone is going to play their part to clean up the air in the centre of the city and that means all of us using petrol vehicles less and using electrical vehicles more.”
The plans have caused some upset among students at affected colleges. Second-year St Peter’s student Eimer McAuley said: “The new ban on non-electric cars seems both impractical and inconvenient for students at Peter’s.
“I don’t really see how it’s possible for people to get their stuff from outside the city centre on foot.”
St Peter’s JCR President El Blackwood told Cherwell: “It is frustrating that little provision has been made for students moving in and out of their colleges”.
Those who fail to follow the regulations are likely to face penalty charges, similar to the £60 bus gate fines currently levied on motorists caught parking in public transport only zones.
Several students have voiced their opinions on the new initiative. Jesus College JCR’s Environment officer, Imogen Dobie, told Cherwell: “This move by the council is a mixed bag for students.
“While the practicalities are obviously annoying, it would be extremely exciting to be the first zero emissions zone, especially after the recent warning that Oxford was one of eleven British cities set to breach the safe limits set for PM10s.”
In May 2016, Oxford was listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of eleven UK towns and cities failing to meet air quality standards.
On Monday, the council is set to launch a six-week consultation on the proposal. It promises to seek responses from all regular travellers through the city centre, including university students.