By Tom Hayes - Oxford City Council Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford

IT’S 2020, the start of a new decade. The start of the new century feels a very long time ago because of the many ways our world is changing so quickly. In a turbulent world, it may be reassuring to know that Oxford, and the people living in it, have always engineered social and technological change, particularly when it comes to how we get around.

In 2017, the city and county councils proposed a Zero Emission Zone for 2020 because your right to clean air and health is under attack from lethal emissions from polluting vehicles. It’s now 2020 and, after listening to your views all the way through these years, the commitment to bring in a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) this year is being honoured.

When we consulted on the ZEZ in 2017, Oxford’s public overwhelmingly told us to go further.

We live in a different world today, one where the need to go further has been made clear by the world’s top scientists and concerned citizens.

Our climate is changing for the worse and emissions from polluting vehicles are to blame. Vehicles are second only to buildings as the leading cause of carbon emissions in the city, and we’re all starting to see the harmful effect of climate breakdown on our lives. So, we’ll be going further with our ZEZ in 2020.

Oxford Mail:

We’ve strengthened our original plans in three ways. First, we’re being more ambitious about what counts as a zero-emission vehicle, so that our ZEZ is a purer one. Second, our scheme will charge commuters who drive polluting vehicles in and out of the city centre streets which make up the first phase of the ZEZ (the so-called red zone). Third, while we’re consulting on this red zone, we’re already planning the next expansion, a big bang across the rest of the centre by 2022 (the green zone) and, ultimately, a citywide zero emissions zone.

It’s right to start a discussion about big changes at an early stage. That’s why we first shared proposal for a city centre Zero Emission Zone in 2017. It’s why we want to share the big idea of expanding the overall scheme with the possible creation of that green zone.

To be able to drive in the inner Red and outer Green Zones of the city centre free of charge, commuters might need to do so behind the wheel of a zero-emission vehicle. There could be similar exemptions and discounts in the Green Zone from 2021 or 2022. We will develop our proposals generally and further consult, including on how the Green Zone will work, though we expect to enforce the ZEZ through automated number recognition cameras.

Oxford Mail:

This is the same type of scheme as used in other cities to enforce emission requirements, but for the first time in the UK for a city centre zero emission zone. Zero emission vehicles would be able to drive in the zone free of charge. Other vehicles would have to pay £10 per day (rising to £20 per day from December 2024) to drive in the zone between 7am and 7pm. There would be discounts and exemptions for some road users, including residents. We’re continuing to roll out hundreds of EV charging points across the city, and this year alone there will be a minimum of 400 installed, many of them the speediest chargers on offer.

Buses and Oxford licensed Hackney Carriages which drive within the Zone have already agreed timelines for zero emissions fleets across Oxford. We’re supporting both transport providers by investing millions of pounds in the retrofitting of buses to a high standard and installing electric hackney cab charging points. It’s crucially important that the city’s buses can replace fossil fuel car use in terms of being green, affordable, and frequent.

Oxford Mail:

One of the most important roles of a council is to protect everyone within our communities and enable the flourishing of the places we care about. That means cleaning the lethal air we’re breathing and meeting our climate emergency not merely in the heart of our city, not simply citywide by 2030, but in all parts of Oxfordshire. It’s right that Banbury and Bicester, and Witney and Wantage, should have their own ZEZ and we want to share the lessons we’ve learned on our own journey to zero emissions.

By providing leadership, we intend to do the right thing by our communities, but we also want to drive change among transport providers and manufacturers and Government. Many times we’ve been told by key figures in the electric vehicle sector, related industries, and even the Government, that our ambition for a historic Zero Emission Zone is driving positive change.

The Government has promised to ban the sale of all new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040. They say they will build a Zero Carbon Britain by 2050. Our councils take it as read that policy and funding should emerge in order to achieve these goals, but we’re waiting to get any sense of direction from the Government.

We simply cannot wait decades to start making changes. We just can’t put your children’s lungs at risk.

We can’t delay action to address climate change, and that’s why we’re introducing a historic first Zero Emission Zone in 2020.