Petrol and diesels vehicles will be banned from Oxford city centre under plans to bring in what officials believe would be the world’s first zero-emissions zone.
The proposals aim to slash air pollution in the historic university city, which has seen levels of the harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide rise above legal limits in some areas.
Under the plans being put out for consultation on Monday, the ban would be introduced in phases, starting with preventing non-zero-emitting taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses from using a small number of streets in 2020.
As vehicle technology develops, the zero-emissions zone will extend to cover all non-electric vehicles, including HGVs, in the whole of the city centre by 2035, according to the joint proposals by Oxford city council and Oxfordshire county council.
The introduction of the zero-emissions zone could see levels of nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from traffic fumes, particularly diesel engines, fall by up to three-quarters by 2035, the councils said.
Data released by the World Health Organisation last year showed that Oxford was one of 11 British cities to breach the safe limits set for toxic particles known as PM10s. It also breached the limit for PM2.5s.
The city has already won £500,000 of government funding to install charging points for electric taxis, and £800,000 to install 100 electric vehicle charging points for residents, but officials say more will be needed to support the zero-emissions zone. Other schemes being considered to support the zone include reduced parking fees for electric vehicles, electric taxi-only ranks, and electric delivery vehicle-only loading areas.
Councillor John Tanner of Oxford city council said: “Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents. A step change is urgently needed; the zero emissions zone is that step change.
“All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic air. Everyone needs to do their bit, from national government and local authorities, to businesses and residents, to end this public health emergency.”
Oxfordshire county council councillor Yvonne Constance said: “We want to hear from everyone who uses the city centre, including businesses, bus and taxi firms and local residents … Pragmatism will be an important part of anything we plan, but we have set the ambition.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called last month for the environment department to amend the Clean Air Act to allow for the creation of zero-emission zones.
Other cities that have tried to introduce measures to tackle vehicle emissions include Madrid, whose city council ordered half of the city’s cars to be banned in 2016, and Oslo, where the authorities eventually backtracked on a plan to ban all private cars in the Norwegian capital.