Image credit: David Nicholls via a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

County Council accused of hypocrisy over ZEZ expansion plans

Oxfordshire County Council has been accused of hypocrisy over its plans to expand Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) after the cost of these plans was revealed.

The proposed project involves charging non-electric vehicles for driving through the ZEZ with an aim to improve the city’s air quality. However, the ethics of the project have been questioned by several Oxford City Council members when it was revealed that expanding the ZEZ would cost £5.8 million.

Sajjad Malik, an Independent city councillor for Temple Cowley ward, said that the ZEZ was a “congestion charge” rather than an attempt to reduce emissions in the city centre. He further commented that “you can have a big van that smokes like hell and still pay the council to drive it… people have already been turned away from Oxford and now there will be more empty shops in the city centre.”

Malik described the ethos of the county council’s scheme as being “as long as you can pay us you can drive any vehicle”. He also claimed that the city not having bus services that are fully compliant until 2030, when the council plans for all its buses to be electric, is hypocritical. “You can only preach what you practice”, he said of the claimed hypocrisy.

In response to Malik’s claims, County Council cabinet member for development strategy Judy Roberts said that the proposals are only drafts and “will be informed by our conversations with business and residents”, adding that the ZEZ “is all about making our city cleaner and healthier”.

“Following a public consultation, the county council’s cabinet will make a public decision on whether to expand the ZEZ”, she concluded.

Emily Kerr, a Green Party city councillor for St Mary’s ward, stated that “the existing pilot ZEZ has already been shown to improve emissions in the city centre, contributing to the overall 8.3% improvement in Oxford’s notoriously bad air quality last year.”

Kerr also pointed out that the ZEZ was first proposed in 2015, giving businesses “plenty of time to switch away from the most dirty vehicles”, and the costs for driving through the ZEZ were as low as £2 per day.

The pilot of the ZEZ was introduced in nine streets in the city centre, including Cornmarket and St Michael’s, in February 2022. In the first six months of its imposition Oxfordshire County Council accumulated almost £120,000 in fines. By law, any income from the ZEZ can only be spent on local transport improvements.

Data from the City Council also suggests, in contradiction to Malik’s claims that the ZEZ is detrimental to local businesses, that footfall in the city centre is at a healthy level.

Last month a new fleet of 159 electric buses was launched in the city, costing ÂŁ82.5 million. In October last year the County Council decided to continue the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods scheme in east Oxford.