As part of its air quality plan, the UK government has identified ‘Low Emissions Zones (LEZs)’ as a way for local authorities to reduce air pollution in specific areas. The London LEZ, introduced in 2008, was the first of its kind in the UK. Fourteen years later, many more cities across the UK have implemented LEZs and ‘Clean Air Zones’ to combat emissions, including Glasgow, Birmingham and Bath.
Whilst many cities are now operating low emissions zones, in February 2022, Oxford became the first UK city to implement a ‘Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZs)’. In the new ZEZ, only vehicles which do not emit any harmful pollutants can enter without incurring charges. All petrol and diesel vehicles, including hybrids, will incur a daily charge unless eligible for a discount or exemption.
The idea of a zero-emissions zone for Oxford was first identified in 2015 as part of the Oxfordshire Local Transport Plan. Following extensive consultations and revised proposals in the following seven years, the pilot phase of the ZEZ started on 28th February this year.
Emissions from vehicles are currently one of Oxford’s most significant air pollution causes, accounting for 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Steps that have already been taken to combat this include a LEZ for buses introduced in 2014, and it is hoped that the new ZEZ and its future expansion will further reduce air pollution levels. Not just limited to Oxford, vehicle emissions are a major nationwide issue, responsible for 33% of the emissions of nitrogen oxides in the UK in 2019.
The current ZEZ consists of a small area right in the heart of Oxford city centre, with this small pilot designed to allow the local authorities to gain useful insights and test how the scheme works before expanding the area covered by the ZEZ.
The second phase of the ZEZ is planned to be implemented next year and will cover the majority of Oxford city centre. A series of further expansions and increased restrictions are planned to achieve a city-wide ZEZ by 2035.
It is hoped that the zero-emissions zone will encourage road users to switch to low and zero-emissions vehicles and make other positive changes to their travel behaviour.
Campaign manager at Asthma + Lung UK, Tim Dexter, described the implementation of a ZEZ as a “watershed moment for tackling air pollution, setting the level of ambition other local authorities should be aiming for in dealing with the UK’s toxic air crisis”.
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