The FTA has hit out at plans for a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) in Oxford, which it claims are "effectively a tax on trucks and vans in areas of the city".

It is calling for Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council to reconsider their strategy until zero-emission commercial vehicles become a viable alternative for local businesses.

The scheme could be rolled out by December this year and will focus on an interim 'Red Zone' which will cover a small area of the city centre and introduce charges for older, more polluting vehicles.

The councils will then create a 'Green Zone' covering the rest of the city centre in 2021/22, which will offer discounted charges for vehicles which comply with the London Ultra Low Emission Zone standards.

A consultation on the ZEZ’s Red Zone will run through January, with the councils asking for feedback on a proposed £10 charge for non-compliant vehicles entering the zone between 7am-7pm. A formal consultation will follow in March ahead of a final decision.

Exemptions for businesses registered in the Red Zone until December 2024 and a 90% discount for residents living in the zone until December 2030 have also be drawn up in the draft proposals and are subject to feedback.

However, Rebecca Kite, environment policy manager at FTA, demanded that Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council reconsider their plans to restrict non-zero emission commercial vehicles.

"It is simply too soon to implement such a punitive scheme," she argued. "There are currently no zero-emission trucks on the market, and very limited options for vans. And without a workable definition for an Ultra Low Emission Truck – something FTA is working with the government to develop – the scheme is effectively a tax on essential freight vehicles.

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“Businesses within the logistics sector are determined to play their part in improving air quality; a recent study by FTA showed they are investing heavily in alternatively-fuelled vehicles. But until the market for zero-emission trucks and vans has fully developed – and they become a viable option for business of all sizes – FTA is strongly advising the councils to delay including commercial vehicles in the ZEZ. The government and local councils should instead, in the view of FTA, focus on supporting and developing the alternatively-fuelled vehicle market.

“The local economy cannot survive without products and services, all of which are delivered to the area by goods vehicles such as vans and HGVs. As it stands, the ZEZ is simply a tax on the companies working hard to deliver the goods and services needed by the residents and businesses of Oxford.”

RHA CEO Richard Burnett was also critical of the new plans, claiming if council chiefs were serious about slashing emissions they needed to focus on improving road infrastructure.

"Current plans mean that consumers will face higher prices in the shops as hard-pressed firms have no choice but to pass on the extra costs," he said. “Imposing a scheme where even the cleanest, Euro-6 trucks will be hit with charges is absurd.

“The councils have offered no evidence to show how these measures will improve air quality so we can only conclude this is all about showcasing their green credentials instead of making the tough choices to tackle emissions.

“These are poorly conceived ideas which will leave Oxford’s communities footing the bill with price hikes in the high street if they go ahead.”

Burnett branded plans to offer exemptions for firms based within the zone as discriminatory, pointing out that most firms delivering into the area will be based outside the zone – many of them within a few miles of the city centre.

Explaining its plans, councillor Tom Hayes, cabinet member for Zero Carbon Oxford, Oxford City Council said: “2020 will be a crunch year for our climate and all our futures. We face a climate emergency that threatens all of our futures. 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.

“With our strengthened Zero Emission Zone and the introduction of hundreds of supporting charging points, our medieval city is leading the electric vehicle revolution. Our two councils have taken a fresh look at the big idea of charging commuters to drive polluting vehicles in and out of the city centre. And we’re listening to Oxford’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change by speeding up our journey to a city-wide Zero Emission Zone.”