THE FINAL chance to have a say in plans for a ‘first of its kind’ clean air zone in Oxford city centre has begun.

The pilot stage of a zero emissions zone is set to be introduced in central Oxford in August next year, and will be expanded to cover the entire city centre in 2022.

Under the plan, most petrol and diesel cars will be charged £4 a day for entering the zone between 7am and 7pm.

One of the council leaders responsible for the plan said it was aimed at creating ‘cleaner air’ and ‘taking action on climate breakdown’.

But before it goes ahead the two public bodies responsible for it, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, want the city’s residents to have their say.

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The final consultation on the city centre ZEZ has launched today (Friday, November 19) and will allow business owners and residents to share their thoughts and feelings on how the plan will affect them.

The zone has been in the pipeline since 2015 and changes have already been made because of previous consultations.

Whereas before there was a blanket charge on all fossil fuel emitting cars, there is now a tiered system of charges depending on how polluting a vehicle is.

Oxford Mail:

And there are also heavy discounts for drivers who live in the middle of the city and for business owners who use their cars and vans there too.

The first stage of the ZEZ, originally called the red zone, was due to begin this summer, covering Queen Street, Cornmarket Street and several side streets in the pedestrianised area of the city centre, but consultation on the plans due to begin in March was delayed until now due to Covid.

Now, under the revised plan the red zone has been renamed as the pilot stage and will begin from August 1 next year.

Under the pilot, drivers would have to pay a charge online before entering the zone in their fossil fuel burning cars.

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Only cars which are fully-electric will be able to enter the zone without paying the charge.

Buses and taxis are exempt however, because there are already separate schemes to make sure that these will be exchanged for fully-electric vehicles in the near future.

Oxford Mail:

The zone will be enforced by automatic number plate recognition cameras, which might either be portable devices placed in the hands of traffic wardens, or fixed to lampposts on the edges of the zone.

After the trial, a zero emissions zone covering the entire city centre is due to begin from Spring 2022: which means that anyone driving on roads including the High Street, St Giles, Oxpens Road, or Hythe Bridge street in a fossil fuel emitting car will have to pay the charge.

Council officers estimate the scheme will costs approximately £200,000, with much of the funding coming from the Government’s Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs.

All the money made from charging drivers to enter the Zero Emissions Zone has to be used to either fund the zone, or must be ploughed into environmental projects.

The timetable for the city centre zone has been brought forward by nine months to reflect how urgent the two councils think the need for the scheme is.

Oxford Mail:

The full city centre zone in Green, with the pilot zone highlighted in red

Another consultation is due to be held next year once the pilot is in place to gather opinions ahead of the full city centre ZEZ rollout.

Tom Hayes, deputy leader of the Labour-run Oxford City council was keen to stress the cross-party agreement with colleagues on the Conservative-run Oxfordshire County Council.

He also said: “This is not about restricting or preventing something. We all know we need to have cleaner air and take action of climate breakdown. We are creating something here which is very positive and which will hopefully have positive outcomes.”

Mr Hayes added that Covid 19 had increased the need for a clean air zone in the city.

The Labour councillor said: “There is increasing evidence that Covid morbidity is related to air quality. If we are saying that Covid is going to stay with us in the longer term then I think we need to be thinking through the different ways that it can impact on people’s lives.”

READ AGAIN about the latest on Oxford's air quality here

Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for transport and the environment, said she welcomed the Government’s recent announcement of a 10-point plan to address climate change.

Ms Constance added a consultation on experimental bus gates over the summer had uncovered an appetite for changes to tackle climate change, even if the bus gates did not go ahead.

She said: “We learned a lot from the consultation on the bus gates about making some significant change in the light of Covid. This is all part of what is very fairly called Build Back Better.”

While the ZEZ is strictly aimed at improving air quality, the two council also have a plan called Connecting Oxford, which includes measures to reduce traffic jams.

Air quality in central Oxford regularly exceeds the legal limit for pollutants, though the amount of pollution on the streets where pollution is at its worst fell during the first lockdown.