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Zero Emission Zones – the future of urban traffic management?

Earlier this week (28 February 2022), Britain’s first Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) was launched in Oxford.

While modest in scope (the zone currently covers only a handful of streets in the city centre), its introduction marks a significant departure for traffic management in our cities. All petrol, diesel and even hybrid vehicles that wish to enter this zone of public streets will face a daily charge of between £2 and £10, depending on the emission levels of the vehicle. The rules within the zone will be enforced using automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR).

However, this is just the pilot project. Its purpose is to allow Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council to gain useful insights before introducing a larger ZEZ covering most of Oxford city centre next year, along with a city-wide workplace parking levy and traffic filters.

These proposals are all subject to public consultation, which will take place this summer, with the schemes to be implemented between 2023 and 2024. The county and city councils will be engaging with businesses, service providers, hospitals, transport providers, schools and town and parish councils to gather suggestions and feedback on the proposed schemes.

Councillor Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, said: “Oxford has always been a leader in innovation and these new plans will help us move towards a zero-carbon transport system in the city, while making Oxford a safer, cleaner and better place for people who live and work here and for those who visit. 

 “While the county council is leading the development of these plans together with the city council, we also intend to work with key partners such as our businesses, universities and bus operators.”


While there is little doubt that Oxford’s ZEZ, if it is made permanent, will improve air quality in the city and shrink its carbon footprint (transport emissions currently account for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions in Oxford), there is concern that HGVs and vans delivering goods and essential services may not be able to access the city centre to stock its shops, bars, restaurants and other businesses with essential goods.

Essential services too, have already had to make adjustments. ODS, which deals with the city’s waste management has introduced an ERCV (Electric Refuse Collection Vehicle) to its fleet just so it can collect the city’s weekly refuse.

Sean Fry, Head of Project Delivery, ODS, said: At ODS we are fully committed to supporting Oxford City Council’s zero emission vision. By the use of our ERCV we’re able to reduce our carbon footprint substantially as well as being able to go into the Zero Emission Zone to collect refuse within that zone with this electric ERCV.”


While Oxford may be the first ZEZ to be introduced in Britain, it is unlikely to be the last. In the capital, which is already subject to an expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), plans are afoot in the Square Mile to reduce motor traffic by a quarter by 2030 and by half by 2044. To help achieve this, the City of London Corporation will be pressing the Mayor of London to introduce a ZEZ similar in area to the Congestion Charge Zone by 2030.

The ZEZs will be centred around two areas – the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, and the cluster of skyscrapers in the east of the City. These are the Square Mile’s areas of greatest residential and commercial density.

Heidi Skinner, Policy Manager, Logistics UK, said: “The introduction of Zero Emission Zones could present a profound challenge for the logistics sector in the coming years. While Logistics UK supports the objective of improving the air quality in our urban centres, this must be balanced with the need to ensure our vibrant cities remain well stocked with essential foods, pharmaceuticals and other goods.

“Although we acknowledge the need to introduce Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones, our position is to ensure these schemes are introduced in a consistent way across the UK to avoid a patchwork of different regulations and ensure that support is offered to those operators with the least means to replace vehicles.”


Published On: 03/03/2022 16:00:57


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