Oxford is expected to launch the UK’s first Zero Emissions Zone in the North-West of the city this December. Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have released a final draft of plans which would require drivers to pay £10 to enter the so-called ‘Red Zone’ in a non-compliant vehicle. 

The plan is part of councils’ plans to improve air quality and reduce pollution in Oxford’s city centre. It is also hoped that commuters who currently drive will switch to alternative modes of transport such as cycling and walking.

Cars must meet the Government’s plug-in grant eligibility criteria to drive through the zone without paying a fee. Cars which qualify produce CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and must be able to travel at least 112km without producing any emissions at all. Buses and taxis will not be impacted by the zone restrictions, as plans have already been agreed with the council to achieve a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035.

The ZEZ covers a small area to the North West of the High Street, restricting access to Cornmarket, Queen Street, St Michael’s Street, Ship Street, and Broad Street. The entrances to both St Peter’s College and the Oxford Union will be bound by the zone. Queen Street and Cornmarket, adjoining Carfax Tower to the West and North respectively, have already been closed to private cars for a number of years. 

In total, an estimated 1,000 vehicles facing restrictions enter the ZEZ each day. By comparison, approximately 5,000 cars and 1,200 buses cross the High Street every day, and almost 9,000 vehicles per day enter Thames Street, which links Folly Bridge and the railway station in West Oxford.

Tom Hayes, Oxford City Councillor, said of the scheme: “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.”

According to research by Friends of the Earth Oxford, Oxford City has some of the worst levels of air pollution in South East England, and more than 1400 residents have signed a petition demanding that Oxford Councils take immediate action to bring pollution down to safe levels in 2020. Council figures suggest that transport accounts for 75% of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Oxford, and 50 tonnes of CO2 are emitted each morning rush hour in the city.

Oxford City Council has also proposed an expanded ‘Green Zone’, which would cover most Oxford Colleges and extend to both the High Street and Thames Street. If approved, this separate zone would come into effect in 2021/22. Restrictions would be more relaxed than the Zero Emissions Zone, and any car which met Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol would be allowed to enter the zone without charge. To meet these standards, cars can produce no more than 0.08g/km of nitrogen oxide.