Birmingham and Oxford are set to join the growing number of UK cities clamping down on polluting vehicles in a bid to tackle harmful emissions. 

Birmingham could ban cars from driving through the city centre, while Oxford intends to introduce the UK’s first city centre Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ).

The radical plans – the latest in a string of steps by UK cities – come amid growing focus on the harmful impact of dangerously high levels of air pollution caused by fossil fuel vehicles, as well as increasing concern about the impact of carbon emissions on the environment. 

Oxford charges for petrol and diesel vehicles

In Oxford, the UK’s first city centre Zero Emission Zone could begin in December this year.

Between the hours of 7am-7pm, petrol and diesel vehicles entering the zone would need to pay £10. 

Electric vehicles and some hybrids would be exempt. There would also be initial exemptions and discounts for blue badge holders, local businesses and residents. Buses and licensed taxis wouldn’t have to pay either as they have already agreed plans to introduce zero emissions fleets across Oxford. 

The move is intended to “reduce Oxford’s toxic air pollution levels, tackle the climate emergency, and improve the health of those living, working, and visiting in Oxford and beyond”, the council said.

In addition, it is proposing a wider fee-charging ‘Green Zone’ to cover the rest of the city centre, starting in the next two years.

Commenting on the plans, Oxford City Councillor Tom Hayes, said: “For the sake of everyone in Oxford, and especially our children’s lungs, we must clean up the lethal air we’re all breathing. Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone will come into force this year and help make 2020 the year we make a game-changing difference.”

Birmingham to limit city centre access to cars

In Birmingham, access to the city centre will be limited for private cars, with no ‘through trips’, under proposals from the council. 

According to a BBC News report, vehicles will be able to drive into the city, but would have to go back out to the ring road to access other areas.

The step is in addition to the city’s plans for a clean-air zone, which from this July will impose daily fees for non-compliant vehicles travelling within the central A4540 Middleway Ring Road.

Birmingham City Councillor Waseem Zaffar said: “As a city, we have been over-reliant on private cars for too long and with more people choosing to live and work in Birmingham, we need to find innovative new ways to keep the city moving in an efficient but sustainable way." 

What’s happening elsewhere

Oxford and Birmingham aren’t the first UK cities to take drastic action against air pollution.

Drivers of more polluting cars, including most diesels, have to pay a daily fee to drive in central London under the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). It came into force in April last year to help tackle dangerously high levels of air pollution in the capital.

Meanwhile, Bristol City Council proposed in November that privately-owned diesel cars will be banned from parts of the city centre and Bristol’s harbour side area for eight hours each day, from 7am to 3pm. There will also be a wider Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which commercial diesel vehicles, such as buses, vans and lorries, will be charged to enter, unless they meet emissions standards.  

In December, York Council approved a proposal to end all “non-essential” vehicle journeys into the city centre within three years. Only buses and disabled drivers would be exempt from the ban, which would apply to the area within York’s city walls.

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