Agenda item

Agenda item

Air Quality



Background Information


The Scrutiny Committee requested a report on air quality data and measures and ideas for improving air quality when agreeing its work plan for 2016/17.  This item was originally suggested by Councillor Pressel.


Why is it on the agenda?


For the Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise progress in improving air quality.  The Committee is asked to note and comment on the report and may also wish to agree recommendations to put to the City Executive Board in December.


Who has been invited to comment?


·         Councillor John Tanner, Board Member for Cleaner Greener Oxford;

·         Jo Colwell, Environmental Sustainability Service Manager;

·         Ian Halliday, Air Quality Officer.






Cllr Tanner, Board member for A Clean and Green Oxford presented the report. He explained that progress was being made in improving air quality in the city but that further action was needed.  The Air Quality Officer explained that public awareness of the impacts of air pollution on health was increasing.  There needed to be a shift to zero emissions in the city as hybrid buses still produced diesel emissions.


The Committee asked about the implications of a recent Client Earth court ruling.  The Air Quality Officer advised that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had indicated that their broad framework and the current targets would remain in place post-Brexit.  DEFRA was likely to look to increase the number of Clean Air Zones being implemented in UK cities but this was not expected to affect Oxford because a planned zero emissions zone already went further.  Another possible change could be the responsibility for meeting EU targets, which sat with the Secretary of State, being pushed down to local levels, together with any associated fines.  The Committee suggest that, in the event of a future weakening of air quality targets in the UK, the Council should continue to work to the current EU targets.


Cllr Wilkinson said that the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) in Oxford City Centre was not well publicised by signage.  The Air Quality Manager explained that the LEZ only applied to buses and while the bus companies were fully aware, more could be done in terms of wider awareness-raising.


Cllr Fry said that there were no smokeless fuel obligations or restrictions on boat emissions in the City Centre area, unlike at various residential mooring zones in the city.  The Committee suggest that such measures are needed and, in addition, that the Council should lobby the statutory body to introduce appropriate measures more widely.


The Committee noted that there was a growing body of evidence that planting trees can help to reduce nitrogen dioxide concentrations and noted that the Council could draw on local expertise in this field.  The Air Quality Officer agreed and said this was something that could be looked at. The Committee suggest that further consideration should be given to the case for tree planting to offset emissions and whether tree planting could be included in the Council’s Air Quality Action Plan.


The Committee examined air quality data at various locations in the City for 2011 to 2015 and questioned why, following a trend of steadily improving data, air quality appeared to have deteriorated in 2015 at various locations.  The Committee heard that the monitoring data was considered to be accurate to within plus or minus 25%, so the 2015 rises were generally within the margin of error.  However, it was expected that prolonged roadworks close to some monitoring locations had had a significant impact on air quality in those areas.


The Air Quality Officer said that St. Clements was one area where, even allowing for the margin of error, the monitoring data for nitrogen dioxide had consistently exceeded targets. Cllr Tanner agreed that this was one of the worst areas in the City for air quality due to heavy traffic, frequent bus movements, a lack of alternative routes and its geographical position.  He said that the Council had tried but been unsuccessful in seeking funding for additional monitoring at St. Clements.  The City continued to raise concerns with the County and this area could be considered for inclusion in a Zero Emissions Zone.  The Committee suggest that urgent action is needed at St. Clements in particular, perhaps supported by an area-specific action plan.


The Committee noted the need for effective partnership working with the County Council as the local transport authority.  Transport accounted for 75% of emissions, so County policies will have the biggest impact on air quality.  The Committee heard that a lot of work had gone into working with the County to reduce emissions from buses, for example, and that further air quality improvements required commitment and continued pressure from the City. 


The Committee questioned what impact the opening of the redeveloped Westgate Shopping Centre with a replacement car park was expected to have on air quality data. The Air Quality Officer said he had seen the air quality impact assessments for the new Westgate Centre and there were likely to be a significant increase in nitrogen dioxide concentrations at a specific location.  This had resulted in the developers being required to implement mitigation measures. Modelling future air quality was difficult to do and it was now becoming generally recognised that past projections had included very optimistic assumptions about the impacts of new technologies on emissions levels and air quality.


Cllr Tanner said it was not clear how the County Council planned for shoppers to be transported to and from the new Westgate Shopping Centre.  Without clarity on this it was very difficult to predict the impacts on air quality.   He said that his preference was for fast buses to and from park and rides or slightly further afield.


The Committee discussed the impacts and take up of additional cycle parking at park and ride sites, controls around wood burning stoves, the prevalence of volatile organic compounds in the City and whether additional monitoring would take place during a major road scheme in Headington.  The Committee noted that people would be forced to consider whether journeys through Headington were really necessary and that people tended to be exposed to the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide when in their vehicles, rather than when walking or cycling.  The Committee also voiced support in principle for the introduction of a Workplace Parking Levy.


The Committee agreed to revisit the issue of air quality within the next six months or so and to invite representatives of the County Council to that discussion.


The Scrutiny Committee agreed the following recommendation to CEB


That the City Council continues to seek to comply with the current EU air quality targets in the event that the UK Government chooses to introduce less-stringent targets after leaving the EU.

That the City Council should promote and raise public awareness of initiatives to improve air quality in Oxford such as the Low Emissions Zone.


That the City Council lobbies the Canal and River Trust to introduce and enforce restrictions on emissions from boats in Oxford City Centre.


That further consideration is given to whether tree planting should form part of the City Council’s approach to improving air quality in Oxford.


That the City Council takes a tailored approach to achieving air quality objectives in the worst areas (e.g. St. Clements), perhaps supported by area-specific action plans.


That the City Council presses the County Council for a clear statement on how they plan for shoppers to be transported to and from the Westgate Shopping Centre when it reopens in autumn 2017.

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