Oxford is set to introduce a Zero Emission Zone, charging vehicles that produce any emissions to drive into the heart of the city centre, by the end of this year.
The scheme is designed to reduce air pollution by encouraging drivers to both switch to electric vehicles and reduce their car usage. Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have published draft proposals of the scheme, which has been in development since 2017 and is planned to come into force this December.
When the scheme was first proposed, the two councils suggested that CO2-emitting cars could be banned entirely from the city centre. Instead, a scheme similar to London's Ultra Low Emission Zone is set to be adopted, with non-electric vehicles charged £10 per day to enter the zone between 7AM and 7PM.
The councils say the scheme would cut CO2 emissions, improving the health of both city centre residents and those in the wider Oxfordshire area.
Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council cabinet member for Zero Carbon Oxford, said the Zero Emission Zone would "help make 2020 the year we make a game-changing difference", adding that "our medieval city is leading the electric vehicle revolution."
The charges would initially apply to a small Red Zone, comprising a handful of streets in the city centre, with exemptions for disabled drivers and vehicles registered to businesses within the zone. Residents of the zone would be given a 90% discount.
From 1 December 2024, the charge would rise to £20 per day, with vehicles registered to businesses paying £10 per day. Residents would continue to benefit from the 90% discount until 2030, when they would be forced to pay the full charge.
Vehicles that meet the Government’s current Plug-in Car Grant criteria – electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell cars and plug-in hybrids capable of at least 70 miles of zero-emissions running – would be exempt from the charges.
As well as the Red Zone, a Green Zone covering the rest of the city centre would be introduced in 2021 or 2022. It would operate with separate requirements that are still being determined but are likely to include charges for vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol emissions standards. Discounts would be given to residents.
The operators of local buses and taxis that run within the zone have already agreed timelines with the councils to switch to zero-emissions fleets, so such vehicles wouldn't be charged.
Income raised from the scheme must by law be used to improve local transport. The councils say they plan to use revenue to help businesses and residents in the Red Zone switch to electric vehicles, likely through the installation of charging points or financial assistance for purchasing.
The proposals are open for public consultation until 31 January and can be viewed here.
Oxford is among a number of UK cities aiming to cut pollution by limiting vehicle access. Last year, Bristol City Council announced plans to ban all diesels from its city centre.