The government has announced a new draft clear Air Strategy, which intends by 2025 to halve the number of people living in areas where particulate matter is above safe levels set by the World Health Organisation.
Councillor Tom Hayes, Executive Board Member for a Safer and Greener Environment, Oxford City Council, said that “urgent action” is needed but that the proposed plans seem “light on detail”.
The Greens suggested that the Council’s inaction “directly has led to the toxic and illegal air quality problems we have today.”
The new legislation will give powers to councils to bring in “clean air zones” to tackle poor air from sources within the household, such as wood burners, and to limit what people can burn through the potential introduction of “no-burn days”.
It also aims cut the cost of air pollution to society by £1 billion a year by 2020, and by £2.5 billion a year by 2030.
Hayes said: “Oxford has toxic and illegal levels of air pollution in some streets, and urgent action is needed.
“Oxford City Council is leading the world in tackling this public health emergency, proposing the world’s first Zero Emission Zone in 2020 and installing world-leading electric vehicle charging technology.
“But we cannot achieve this alone; we need Government support and funding, particularly to help install more electric vehicle charging points.
“Over recent years the Government has provided Oxford City Council with £3.25m of funding to install charging points and upgrade buses to reduce emissions, and earlier this year Ministers pledged ‘a more formal approach’ to supporting our work.”
“We are pleased that the Government has released a draft Clean Air Strategy for the UK, but, at first glance, the document appears to be light on detail about how the ‘more formal approach’ will be work, how local authorities will be supported to introduce zero emission zones, and how much funding will be available to achieve this.
“Others have described the strategy as having ‘a transport-shaped hole’, which, given about 70% of air pollution in Oxford comes from transport, is concerning.”
“We will be going through the strategy in detail over the coming weeks to understand how it will impact Oxford, and will be responding formally to the consultation later this summer. We would encourage residents and businesses to do the same.”
However, the council has faced criticism for its management of the issue: Cllr Craig Simmons, Leader of City Council Green Group, said: “The Council seem to be abdicating responsibility for their past inaction and poor planning decisions – which directly has led to the toxic and illegal air quality problems we have today.
“It is Oxford City Council that decided to expand car parking in the City Centre and allowed parking charges to fall.
“It is the Council that tripled the size of the Shopping Centre and is encouraging more people to drive into the centre.
“It is this Council that is supporting an economic strategy that will see 40% increase in commuters into Oxford.”
This government strategy follows the government being taken to court by the European commission, due to its failure to meet legal limits set in 2010 to cut down the level of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful pollutant.