Air pollution levels in central Oxford have fallen significantly as a result of the government-imposed lockdown, and the City Council are looking at ways to sustain this change in the future.

Oxford City Council report that travel restrictions have caused levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide in the air to dip below the legal limit for the first time since records began.

Models produced by environmental consultancy Ricardo Energy and Environment show that current air pollution levels have dropped by 59% as a direct result of the lockdown. Between 2009-2019 pollution levels dropped by only 37%.

Of the 29 sites surveyed nationally, which included London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, Oxford saw the largest decrease in air pollution.

Plans are now being discussed to maintain these levels. The City Council is exploring measures such as increasing the number of bike lanes and pedestrianising Broad Street. Nationally there has been a large increase in the number of people cycling and walking, with bike retailer Halfords reporting a 500% increase in the sales of some cycling equipment.

Speaking about the proposed changes, Cllr Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Financial Inclusion and Zero Carbon Oxford, said: “Coronavirus has suddenly given British cities cleaner air. Increasingly, those braving Oxford’s empty streets are crying out to clean up our communities, and this City Council is listening to them.

Why should we return to pollution-spewing traffic that harms human health when we know the pandemic is preying on people with underlying health conditions?”

Oxford City Council declared a climate emergency in January 2019 and was named the number one local authority in the UK for tackling air pollution by magazine Government Business. Reports commissioned in recent years have highlighted the need to reduce private car usage in the city for health and environmental reasons.

The planned Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ), due to be introduced this year, has been pushed back to 2021 as a result of COVID-19. Under the new scheme, diesel and petrol vehicles will be charged to enter Oxford city centre, similar to the London Congestion Charge. Research shows that more than 75% of nitrogen dioxide emissions in Oxford come as a result of transport.