By Oxford City Council board member for environment Tom Hayes.

WE all have the right to clean air, yet millions of people across the UK are breathing toxic air on a daily basis.

A recent report found that outdoor air pollution is causing 40,000 deaths in the UK each year, and health experts warn that there is no safe level for pollutants.

Toxic air affects every one of us, from the time that we are in the womb and through to old age, though some are more vulnerable, including those on the lowest incomes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Up and down the country, our town halls put the health of our communities first. And, here in Oxford, our mission to clean up polluted air and save lives is taking a leap forward with the development of our updated proposals to introduce the world’s first Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ).


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As with our original plans, our updated ZEZ will be introduced in phases between 2020 and 2035. The latest plans will require all 106 Black Cabs licensed in the city to move from 0 per cent electric today to 100 per cent zero-emitting by 2025 and all buses running in the whole city centre to have one of the cleanest (Euro 6) engines by 2020 then be zero emitting by 2035 at the latest.

For everyone else, the ZEZ has been simplified from three to two zones: an inner ‘red’ zone covering streets around Cornmarket Street and an outer ‘green’ zone covering the whole city centre.

From 2020, all non-zero emission cars, vans and lorries will be banned from parking or unloading during the day in the inner zone.

Then, from 2022, vans, lorries and tourist buses may face a penalty if they enter the outer zone, which may expand to cars by 2025.


Whether you drive a car, ride the bus, get around in a taxi, or do none of the above, your health and quality of life will improve because of Oxford’s ZEZ.

Our commitment to cleaning your air and saving lives is equal to our commitment to listen intently to those directly affected by our plans, take on board their views, and respond pragmatically and appropriately.

To consult on plans in 2017, ignore what more than 750 respondents told us, and plough on would have been insulting to those who took the time to participate in a democratic process. Respondents would rightly have been angry if we had turned around and said 'you’ve got it wrong' and 'yep, we wasted the time you took out of your busy schedules to take part in the public consultation'.

I have been especially eager to ensure people feel listened to because we’ll be formally consulting on the proposals once they have been fully costed this autumn.

This consultation has been the start of a 15 month-long conversation with residents, businesses, transport operators, health experts, local authorities considering similar schemes and other stakeholders.

Although the majority supported the principle of a ZEZ, many raised valid concerns about deliveries to and from businesses within the zone, access to the zone for disabled people, the introduction of electric vehicles within suggested timescales, and the availability and affordability of suitable vehicles and infrastructure. Our updated proposals are a direct response to these concerns and our updated ZEZ is all the better for it.

Ours is a textbook example of local government doing what national government won’t. Whitehall hasn’t developed the ZEZ, nor are they directly funding it.

We don’t have a magic money tree to shake and fund fleets of electric taxis and buses from next year.

National Government won’t even bring forward a proposed ban on polluting vehicles from 2040 to 2030, as my council has been calling for in our Cleaner Air Charter, allied to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Local authorities up and down the country want to do more to clean up our air and we hold the keys to the electric vehicle revolution.

But, our cash-strapped councils need more resources to help people out of polluting cars and make green transport like walking, cycling and public transport a viable alternative.

We need funding that meets the up front costs of electrifying our public transportation and incentives for people to trade in polluting vehicles.

Our councils need support, but we’re not prepared to wait for it because every year that substantial action on air pollution is delayed is another year when hundreds of people will die preventable deaths.

That’s why the Zero Emission Zone isn’t just a game-changer—it’s also a life-saver.