OPINION is divided on plans to ban petrol and diesel vehicles in the city centre, amid growing calls to make air quality a public health priority.

The city and county council’s joint scheme to ban all non-electric vehicles from the centre of Oxford by 2035 has caused a stir among Oxford Mail readers.

Some have criticised the practicality of the scheme, with a new multi-storey car park set to open for the Westgate Shopping Centre within the proposed zero emissions zone.

However, others have applauded the move as a major step forward to help reduce vehicle pollution.

In a reader’s poll on the Oxford Mail website, 52 per cent of 750 voters agreed with the councils’ plans.

One reader wrote: “For once the councils are planning ahead and giving plenty of time for adaptation.

“This fits well with the national strategy to remove diesel and petrol vehicles from the roads.

While the costings look large at least half of it would be the cost of replacing the existing vehicle fleet anyway.

“There is absolutely no risk of businesses or shops in Oxford not getting their supplies, commercial firms will adapt as they already have to the controlled zones in London.”

But others were not so supportive of the scheme. Neil Thompson raised concerns about how emergency services would access the city.

Posting on Facebook he said: “ What about ambulances, police cars and fire appliances - not thought this through have you?”

In May 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) put Oxford in a list of 10 UK towns and cities including London and Glasgow that are failing to meet air quality standards.

To continue the efforts of reducing air pollution in the city, Oxford Friends of the Earth (OFOTE), have now started a online petition to ensure the city meets the WHO standards by 2020.

Director of public health for the county, Dr Jonathan McWilliam recently dedicated a chapter of his annual report to air quality.

In it he revealed that particulate matter in the air was a contributing factor to 12.6 deaths per 100,000 population per year.

He added: “In the 1990s it was felt that air pollution was no longer a major health issue. Legislation had made the great smogs of the 1950s a thing of the past.

“But evidence started to emerge that small particles emitted to the air from various sources, such as road transport, industry, agriculture and domestic fires, were still having an effect on health.

Dr McWilliam added: “ Clearly this isn’t an exact science but it does give us a guide – enough to say that the experts think that particulates are a real health issue and should be tackled.”

For more information about OFOTE’s petition visit: bit.ly/2zfgISM