PLANS to clean up Oxford’s air quality have been relaxed and pushed back by the coronavirus lockdown.

The Zero Emissions Zone is a joint scheme run by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council and aims to reduce pollution from fossil fuel burning vehicles.

The first part of the scheme was due to be rolled out in December this year, but, following an announcement in March, it has been postponed until summer 2021.

The scheme is also due to affect buses and taxis, though the two councils have loosened some of the restrictions in light of the economic downturn caused by the lockdown.

Bus company leaders have hailed the changes as pragmatic, while one of the council chiefs responsible for the scheme said the authorities' ‘hands were tied’ by the pandemic.

Oxford’s bus companies, including the two largest, Stagecoach and the Oxford Bus Company, had agreed to a timetable which would see them phase out more polluting public transport from the end of the year within the centre of the city, in an area called the bus Low Emission Zone.

Now the start of this has been pushed back until December 2021.

Under the Zero Emission Zone plans, Hackney Carriages will have to phase to zero-emission vehicles between 2020 and 2025, with drivers only able to get a licence in 2025 if they have a zero-emission cab.

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But during the coronavirus pandemic the city council as the licensing authority, has updated its guidelines fore taxi emission standards.

This means drivers unable to replace their existing vehicle with one that complies with current emission standards can make a request in writing to the council for an emissions exemption when renewing their licence.

Tom Hayes, city council cabinet member for zero carbon Oxford said: “It brings the council no joy to adjust the timeline for the Low Emission Zone for buses and cleaner emission requirements for taxis after so many years of discussions to reach decisions. Our hands are tied by the pandemic.”

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Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company managing director welcomed the council’s ‘pragmatic approach.’