Oxford Zero Emission Zone faces criticism for £10 day charges

A PROJECT that could turn Oxford into UK’s most sustainable city has been criticised for imposing ‘a tax on hard-working companies’. The logistics organisation Freight Transport Association urged Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council to rethink plans to restrict non-zero emission commercial vehicles within the city centre. Unveiled on Tuesday as a joint venture between the two councils, the Zero Emission Zone will impose a daily charge of GBP10 on drivers entering parts of the city from December this year and GBP120 fine if they fail to pay on time.

That is unless they are using zero-emissions vehicles like electric cars, or vehicles which emit less than 50 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre. ALSO READ: Murder investigation launched after man stabbed in Didcot Environment policy manager at FTA Rebecca Kite said: “It is simply too soon to implement such a punitive scheme; there are currently no zero-emission trucks on the market, and very limited options for vans.”

She explained that without a workable definition for an Ultra Low Emission Truck – something that FTA is apparently working on with the government – the scheme is ‘effectively a tax on essential freight vehicles’. Ms Kite added: “The local economy cannot survive without products and services, all of which are delivered to the area by goods vehicles such as vans and HGVs. “As it stands, the ZEZ is simply a tax on the companies working hard to deliver the goods and services needed by the residents and businesses of Oxford.”

However, the city council urged the FTA to ‘face facts’. ALSO READ: ‘Absolute joke’: residents outraged after supermarket plans refused

City Councillor Tom Hayes, who has been at the forefront of the project, said HGVs make up 17 per cent of harmful emissions but amount to only five per cent of all vehicles in the city centre. He added:” Every day polluting trucks pile into our city centre, belching lethal emissions into the air we all breathe. “The lungs of Oxford’s children are literally being put at risk.”

The council has also committed to a 100 per cent discount on the charges for all vehicles registered to businesses within the ‘Red Zone’ for the next four years to provide time for adjustments. ALSO READ: Estate’s biggest school gets mixed feedback from Ofsted Proposed restrictions will also operate only between the hours of 7am and 7pm, when the highest number of cyclists and pedestrians are present, so all delivery vehicles, including HGVs, will be able to operate free of charge outside of these timings.

A number of zero emission delivery companies like Pedal & Post and OXWASH that already operate in the city. The plan aims to cut pollution, with morning rush hour road traffic in Oxford pumping out 50 tonnes of CO2 every day, according to recent research. Mr Hayes said: “I’d rather the FTA considered the interests of employees of companies, not just bosses – the people driving dirty trucks into Oxford are putting their health at risk to make a living, and that clearly cannot go on.”

The councillor added: “We’re helping to create a greater demand for electric delivery trucks and, whether the FTA agree or not, our ZEZ will lead to cleaner models that won’t pollute our air and damage our environment. ALSO READ: OPINION – we cannot put children’s lungs at risk any longer Oxford Zero Emission Zone faces criticism for £10 day charges

“Certainly, the clean air zones popping up around the country will help to have the same effect.” Criticism, however, also poured from the Liberal Democrats who said ‘there are still major problems with the latest proposals’. Councillor and spokesperson on green issues Paul Harris argued that while the party welcomes the idea of emission charging, the ‘Red Zone’ ‘will make no difference to air quality or congestion as the streets affected have little traffic’.

However, the councillor said that what would make a substantial difference to pollution is the ‘Green Zone”, which as detailed in the councils’ proposals would see the entire city centre accessed for free by zero-emission vehicles and with discounted charges for residents. The ‘Green Zone’ is part of the next stage of the ZEZ process and, if approved, it will launch in 2022. An informal public consultation on the ‘Red Zone’ that launched on Tuesday will run until January 31, with the proposals then going to formal consultation in March.

Councils will be looking for feedback on the charges, discounts and hours of operation.

See the consultation online at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/zeroemissionzone

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