Like several other local authorities, Oxford City Council has been grappling with the issue of air pollution and earlier this month announced plans to introduce a zero-emission zone. The proposals would see diesel and petrol vehicles banned from Oxford city centre in phases, starting with some vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020 moving to all vehicle types across the whole city centre in 2035.
Environment Journal spoke to Chris Dyer, head of consultancy at infrastructure asset management specialists Yotta, about the plans and discuss what infrastructure changes must be made to ensure these emission-free plans are successful.
Firstly, how bold and ambitious are Oxford’s plan for zero emission city?
They are extraordinarily ambitious. In many ways you could argue it’s been a long time coming, but at the same time, you have to ask yourself how is it achievable with the technology available today. As long as it stays in the way they are describing, implemented over a period of time and they continuously review how it is going, I think it is achievable.
What sort of infrastructure will Oxford need to put in place to create a zero-emission zone?
Oxford already has extensive park and ride schemes and pedestrianised areas within the city itself. But the other issue to think about is if you are going to have more electric vehicles coming into the city, then you have to make sure you have the ability to charge those vehicles. They will also be able to monitor carbon emissions and see if they are improving. At the same time, they need to have gateways in and out of the city, so people are clear where the boundaries are and the impact of crossing those boundaries are. They also need to think about the kind of vehicles they are stopping going in. It’s all very well stopping cars, but what about delivery vehicles and construction vehicles? They will have to think about those things as well, especially as the technology around electric HGVs is still fairly basic.
Presumably, they will also need lots of rapid charging points in the city?
Yes, at the moment there are not many of those around anyway. In terms of allowing electric vehicles into the city, the infrastructure itself is fine, but you will need to have controlled zones and you will need to look at how you are looking to transport people in and out of those zones. You are going to have to understand the economic impacts or benefits that could be achieved from doing all of those.
How do see infrastructure changing in cities generally over the next 10 or 15 years?
From our point of view, we are looking at infrastructure, which is intelligent. That could be a carriageway able to report to you about how it’s performing, drainage that’s able to tell you it needs cleaning or buildings, which monitor movement and are able to gather intelligence to make efficient and effective decisions. The term we use is connected asset management, through hardware and software. We are already beginning that journey at the moment.
Is this an extension of the Smart Cities approach and will the vehicles of tomorrow be integrated into these systems?
Yes, there’s already been a trial with using dustcarts as pothole spotters (Thurrock District Council), using vehicles which are regularly travelling the whole network to seeing what information can be captured.
Other cities around the country are looking at low emission zones. What infrastructure improvements could be seen in these cities?
For me it comes down to the economic and social changes which are needed. It’s about educating people about how they move around cities and towns and how you engage local businesses and local organisations to think about how they transport goods and do business. That’s the bigger challenge.
I used to work for East Sussex County Council as the asset manager in the highways department and I designed the pedestrian zone inside the centre of Lewes. The biggest challenge was the shopkeepers saying ‘you are stopping vehicles stopping outside my shop’. It was a case of getting them to think ‘the car doesn’t drive to the shop, people do and they can walk to the shop’. They could not grapple with that. It was a real problem, so we could never actually close it off and had to allow delivery vehicles in at all times. That’s what you are dealing with in those sort of areas.
Have you got any advice for local authorities that are starting to look at reducing emissions. Is there anything they should be considering?
They should be looking at engaging with their customers and residents to understand what they want from their towns and cities, and get them ready for change. You need a lot of talk and communication on the topic and the thinking, before you can get to the position to you’re ready to start making changes. It’s really getting the buy-in from local businesses and getting them into the idea that it is going to happen. Then you can jointly go about making the changes, which will benefit the businesses and the residents of the town together. It’s about how you manage that joint approach.