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Will petrol and diesel cars soon be banned from all towns and cities?

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The news that Oxford plans to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles from the city centre by the end of the decade is just the latest example of the UK authorities’ crackdown on emissions.

Oxford high street

In October, a joint proposal from Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council set out their intention to create the world’s first zero-emission zone (ZEZ) from 2020.

The plans will mean that all cars, lorries, buses and vans which run, either exclusively or in part, on fossil fuels will no longer be permitted to drive on the city’s streets.

Building on success of low-emission zone

Oxford introduced a low-emission zone, which required local buses services to use more environmentally friendly vehicles, in 2014.

And it is the success of this policy that has led to the creation of the ZEZ.

“There has been an improvement in air quality in the city in recent years and there is clearly a need to carry this trend on,” says David Nimmo-Smith from Oxfordshire County Council.

“The improvements clearly illustrate that measures to improve air quality, such as the introduction of the low-emission zone, have worked. However, there is more we all need to do to improve air quality.”

Health is the key concern

car exhaust fumes

John Tanner of Oxford City Council adds: “Our vision is to create a city centre that people can live and work in without worrying about how vehicle emissions will impact on their health.”

The effect of vehicle exhaust fumes on air quality, in particular in more densely populated areas, is the main reason that national and local governments in the UK have devised a number of policies that penalise diesel and petrol use.

In the summer, the government announced plans to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040.

But motorists already face significant incentives to move to alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) such as plug-in electric cars.

Higher parking charges

For example, many local authorities now impose higher residential parking charges on diesels, which reflects their greater contribution to air pollution.

Officials in London have just introduced a new £10-a-day surcharge – known as the T-Charge – for vehicles which do not meet the latest emissions standards.

And much of central London will be designated an ultra-low-emission zone from 2020: this will effectively prohibit the most polluting vehicles from the current Congestion Charge area at all times.

But one of the biggest obstacles to increased take up of cleaner AFVs at present is their cost and the lack of a reliable charging infrastructure around the UK.

Costs remain prohibitive

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, says: “Industry is working with government to ensure that the right consumer incentives, policies and infrastructure are in place to drive growth in the still very early market for ultra-low emission vehicles in the UK.

“However, much depends on the cost of these new technologies and how willing consumers are to adopt battery, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen cars.

“Currently, demand for AFVs is growing but still at a very low level as consumers have concern over affordability, range and charging points.”

Research from breakdown firm Allianz Global Assistance has revealed that there is a reasonable level of public support for the introduction of clean-air zones in towns and cities across the UK.

Changing motorist attitudes

More than half (53%) of respondents to a recent survey say they would be willing to pay a fee to drive in a clean-air zone in order to limit the use of more polluting vehicles.

Allianz’s Kate Walker says: “We are seeing a huge shift in people’s attitudes towards the impact emissions are having on the environment and the health of the British public as a whole.

“Individuals are actively supporting cleaner driving, but recognise that there are personal financial implications and are wary that shifting to cleaner driving could leave them out of pocket.”

Walker adds: “It will be extremely interesting to see how certain clean air and scrappage schemes develop in the coming months, but one thing is for certain, everybody, including government, the motor industry and UK car owners, have a role to play in reducing global emissions.”

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