Agenda item

Agenda item

Air quality


Background Information

The Scrutiny Committee considered an air quality report in November 2016 and asked to invite officers from the County Council to a future meeting for a further discussion. 

Why is it on the agenda?

For the Scrutiny Committee to consider efforts to improve air quality in the city.  The most recent air quality status report for Oxford is included again.  The Oxford Transport Strategy is also included under item 6.  Cllr Simmons, the Committee’s Lead Member for this item, has suggested the following lines of inquiry for this discussion:

·         What next steps can be taken to reduce emissions from public transport?

·         What more can be done in the short to medium term to reduce emissions from other vehicles by promoting public transport, cycling, walking and cleaner fuels?

·         What specific steps can be taken to improve air quality in the worst areas, e.g. St. Clements and are there plans for additional monitoring or public signage?

·         What plans are in place to accommodate the additional journeys that are expected to take place when the Westgate Shopping Centre reopens?

·         How effective is partnership working on air quality between the City and Council Councils?

Who has been invited to comment?

·         Councillor John Tanner, Board Member for a Clean, Green

·         Martin Kraftl, Oxfordshire County Council

·         Stewart Wilson, Oxfordshire County Council





Councillor John Tanner, Board Member for a Clean, Green Oxford presented the report. He said the County Council was committed to a zero emission zone by 2020. The City and County councils had appointed a consultant to look into practical ways to achieve this in the city centre. Ideas are still being formulated. When the low emission zone was introduced it was buses that caused most of the air quality problems but they have mostly been changed  to produce only low emission.


Martin Kraftl from Oxfordshire County Council addressed the committee. The County’s Local Transport Strategy 2015-2030 plans to start implementing a zero emission zone in 2020. How quickly it can be rolled out will depend on what vehicles will be affected. Improved technology will assist the move to zero emission.


The Environmental Sustainability Manager said that the City monitors air quality based on DEFRA advice. Diffusion tubes are placed in areas in the city known to have poor air quality. These are places with high levels of traffic close to residential homes and businesses. There are 75 diffusion tubes in the city which officers check every month and analyse results.  Data needs to be collected, analysed and audited over a 12 month period to show the long term trend of air quality at the site. The exact location of tubes is listed in the air quality report.


The Committee asked why there were so many diffusion tubes in close proximity in the city centre and why none were positioned near the bypass.


Cllr Tanner said it was important to have lots of diffusion tubes in the city centre to monitor the situation main street by main street. Often 2 diffusion tubes were put close together to act as a control.  We need to monitor the different sites to inform the County Council of areas of concern.

There is no evidence to show that air quality from traffic on the ring road is as bad as the city centre.


Cllr Simmons asked what specific steps could be taken to improve air quality in the worst areas, e.g. St. Clements and are there plans for additional monitoring or public signage? Cllr Tanner said he’d much prefer to focus on the causes of the problem rather than tell people how bad it is.

The Environmental Sustainability Manager said that daily air quality levels are already available on the Council’s website.


Cllr Simmons said that as a planning authority we don’t put any mitigating measures (in regards to air pollution) on applications approved on sites in high air pollution areas ie Westgate or Northern Gateway[1].

Martin Kraftl from Oxfordshire County Council said that the Transport Strategy includes working on creating better cycling and walking routes in Headington. There is a huge amount to be done but we must be doing something right as there is 25% less traffic in the city than there was 20 years ago.


Cllr Simmons asked how the City Council comments on the County’s Local Transport Strategy were taken. Cllr Tanner said the County agreed with the City Council’s comments. It’s going to take a lot of co-operation to deal with the ongoing problems. If we clean up the city centre it will have a knock on effect in other areas of city.


The Committee asked about the reason why Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) levels had risen since 2014. The Environmental Sustainability Manager said that road works contributed to some of these increases – eg the re-development of Frideswide Square.  However the long term trend is reduction.


Is NOx contributed to one type of fuel?

Cllr Tanner said that all combustion engines produce NOx emissions that are harmful to people’s health however diesel produces more. The government needs to stop tax incentives for diesel vehicles. It should give tax incentives for electric vehicles.


The Chair said the City Council has the power to adopt parking zones with differentiated charges. We could offer free parking for electric vehicles (up to 5 spaces). Cllr Tanner said it would be hard to enforce a differentiated parking zone and he would prefer focusing on the prime cause of the problem and how to improve air quality in the city.


Cllr Chapman said he would like to see officers review the measures in the City’s Air Quality Annual Status report for the measures that have not progressed to date. The key performance indications also need to be provided. Cllr Tanner to progress.


The Scrutiny Committee made the following recommendations to CEB


  1. Consider implementing a differentiated parking  charges for car-parking in the city to offer cheaper car parking for electric vehicles


  1. As part of the Local plan review to consider a policy that mitigate the effect of worsening air quality for development in poor air quality zones of the city.


  1. For officers to review the feasibility and impact of measures in the City’s Air Quality Annual Status report that have not progressed to date.


[1] The Environmental Sustainability Manager confirmed after the meeting that the Council does require mitigation where air quality is forecast to be impacted and we did secure measures and a full air quality action plan for the Westgate.


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