Oxford city council have come out with an announcement of their plans to become the world’s first zero emissions city, as they believe, pledging to ban diesel and petrol cars from their city centre roads by 2020. It’s also their hope to extend this zone throughout the whole city by 2035. Could ‘clean air zones’ make for another step towards reaching the target as the UK government commits to improving air quality across the nation?

Air quality is supposedly linked to up to 40,000 deaths which occur prematurely on an annual basis, this only in the UK capital alone. Consequently, the government simply had to take a leaf out of the books of their neighbouring countries and just do something about the high levels of air pollution emanating from our diesel and petrol vehicles. In particular, diesel cars are singled out to be emitting 50% more toxic emissions than the legal limit, which include the likes of nitrogen dioxide. . Both Norway and Germany are on their way to hitting their clean air targets by 2025 and 2030.

As far as the UK goes, Oxford isn’t the only one which plans to do something about their air quality, with five of the UK’s most polluted regions also committing to the introduction of ‘clean air zones’ into their cities. These include Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Derby and Southampton. The government’s definition of a clean air zone is “an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality and resources are prioritised and coordinated in order to shape the urban environment in a way that delivers improved health benefits and supports economic growth”.

With these zones, the plan is to limit access to vehicles with high pollution rates and charge them for entering the zone as an attempt to reduce pollution levels in the area. The ultimate aim is to encourage drivers to switch to cleaner, electric or hybrid vehicles so that they don’t get hit with fees for entering the clean zones. Blanket vehicle bans, time-of-day restrictions and the introduction of entry charges will limit who can enter the zone. Zero-emission vehicles or those with ultra-low emissions will be exempt from charges within the clean zones, but to begin with, only taxis, buses and HGVs are likely to be slapped with charges for entering the areas while privately owned vehicles will be exempt. The government seems to be keen to make it clear to drivers who were encouraged to buy diesel under former governments that they won’t be penalised for following successive governments.

Moving forward however, the government seeks to encourage drivers to avoid diesel and petrol through the introduction of a diesel scrapping scheme. This is to be deployed as an incentive for drivers to upgrade their older vehicles to new, cleaner ones. Because of some budget issues however, they’ve put their diesel scrapping plans on hold. Theresa May’s indication is that this is temporary and that the diesel scrapping scheme will be moving ahead in the near future.

As the UK government continues unveiling its plans to reach their goals set for 2040, clean air zones seem to be a step closer to hitting those targets. If the UK’s transition into an electric nation is to be a success, this will perhaps just make for a small piece in larger puzzle. The more cities we have investigating the feasibility of the introduction of clean air zones, this small puzzle piece could prove to be quite a significant approach to getting our emissions and subsequent pollution back down to the legal limit.

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