UPDATE: Your say on plan for Zero Emissions Zone

NON-ELECTRIC vehicles could be banned from Oxford city centre by 2035 in what is believed to be the world's first Zero Emissions Zone.

The new zone would see all petrol and diesel taxis, cars and buses excluded from six central streets including Queen Street from 2020.

That area will then be expanded in 2025 and 2030 to encompass the entire city centre, including George Street, St Aldate's and most of High Street.

Finally, in 2035, HGVs will be banned from the same zone if the plan goes ahead after a consultation. 

The scheme is set to cut levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) down to near-background levels, with as much as a 74 per cent reduction in George Street, with Oxford City Council environment chief John Tanner saying the move is 'urgently needed'.

However, it will also cost bus operators, taxi firms, haulage companies and councils an estimated £14m.

Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach, all taxi firms, other businesses, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council will have to spend an estimated £7m replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric or hybrid: that includes the councils' bin lorries and gritting vehicles.

The councils will then need to spend a further £7m on administration and a new CCTV system with automatic number plate recognition to enforce the ban.

Anyone driving a non-electric vehicle in the zone will most likely receive an automatic fine similar to the bus gate fine of £60.

The Oxford Times: A map showing where Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council plan to create the city's zero emissions zone

WHAT ROADS WILL BE IN THE ZERO EMISSIONS ZONE WHEN?

The Zero Emission Zone proposals would see:

• From 2020: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from Queen Street, Cornmarket Street, New Inn Hall Street, Market Street, Ship Street and St Michael’s Street

• From 2025: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from roads including New Road, Worcester Street, George Street, Magdalen Street, Magdalen Street East, Pembroke Street, Speedwell Street, Norfolk Street and Castle Street

• From 2030: Non-zero emission taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses excluded from all roads within Hollybush Row, Hythe Bridge Street, Worcester Street, Beaumont Street, St Giles’, part of Parks Road, South Parks Road, High Street, Longwall Street, Merton Street, Blue Boar Street, St Aldate’s and Thames Street

• From 2035: All non-zero-emission vehicles, including HGVs, excluded from within the above area

With the zone being gradually expanded, the councils have said the majority of the cost will be back-loaded to the second half of the next 18 years, giving time to budget.

However the cost on small businesses and some residents is still set to be significant.

Black cab driver Sajad Khan welcomed the 'positive strategy' but warned that he and his fellow drivers would have to make a 'huge investment' in new cars.

Mr Khan, who is secretary for the the City of Oxford Licensed Taxicab Association (COLTA), said: "We would be required to possibly make huge investment in the only suitable ‘zero emissions capable’ vehicle in production – in the region of £60,000.

"It is necessary that both city and county councils realise this is a huge step for each black cab driver within the trade of Oxford."

He said it was important for the two councils to 'support' his industry and make sure no driver was disadvantaged 'in any way', warning: "There may well be a case to rethink the target date for the inception of a Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ)."

The Oxford Times: Traffic on Oxford High Street. Picture: Ed Nix

The city's two bus companies also warned that while they welcomed the ambition, they would look to the city council for 'support' in upgrading their fleets at great cost.

Stagecoach Oxfordshire managing director Martin Sutton said: "There is still some way to go before zero-emission technology for buses is fully developed and we look forward to working with both city and county councils to explore what can be achieved and in what timescales."

Oxford Bus Company MD Phil Southall added: "We will work with the council to identify the possible solutions for Oxford and the time frame in which they might be able to be deployed."

As part of the ZEZ the councils are also considering reduced parking fees for electric vehicles, electric taxi-only ranks and electric vehicle-only loading areas.

The city council said the ZEZ would 'need to be supported with further funding' from government, with bids expected in due course.

And, whatever the reservations about the Oxford ZEZ, the government has already announced that the sale of all petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2040, meaning the final Oxford roll-out will come only five years before the national rule.

That ban was announced in July as part of the government's new air quality action plan, ordered by the High Court to tackle illegal pollution levels.

Although air quality has generally improved in Oxford over the past decade, many streets are still breaching the European Union legal limit of 40 micrograms of Nitrogen Dioxide per cubic metre, including George Street, High Street, St Clements and Speedwell Street.

Although the ZEZ will not stretch to St Clements, the worst-polluted road in Oxford, the council said it will be looking at other solutions to traffic problems there.

On Monday, the councils will launch a six-week consultation at oxford.gov.uk/zez, seeking views on the speed of implementation and vehicle types and roads affected.

The councils said they will be 'seeking responses from everyone who uses the city centre – including businesses, fleet operators and local residents' – to help shape the final scheme, which will be published next year.

Oxford City Council cabinet member for environment John Tanner said: "Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents. A step change is urgently needed; the Zero Emission Zone is that step change.

"All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic air. Everyone needs to do their bit – from national Government and local authorities, to businesses and residents – to end this public health emergency.

"I would urge everyone who uses Oxford city centre to take part in the consultation."