As Oxford City Council issues another pollution warning, Greens warn that the Council could be fined for repeated breaches of EU air quality guidelines.
Air pollution is responsible for around 27,000 early deaths across the UK each year - equivalent to around 50 in a City the size of Oxford.
On 20th February 2014, the European Commission began legal proceedings against the UK over failure to provide plans to meet the air quality limit values for nitrogen dioxide by 2015. In giving notice the Commission stated “The Commission is therefore of the opinion that the UK is in breach of its obligations under the Directive, and a letter of formal notice has been sent. The UK has two months to respond.”
Note that the deadline to meet the EU directive limits for Nitrogen Dioxide was 2010. The regulations provided an option to extend the deadline, subject to submission of plans that will ensure achievement of the limits by 2015. The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has admitted that 16 zones (including the South East; of which Oxford is a part) cannot meet the limits by the revised deadline of 2015.
In an assessment by DEFRA, a number of roads within Oxford are identified as likely to exceed EU limit values for annual mean nitrogen dioxide in 2015.
The legal consequences of this are uncertain and untested but DEFRA have indicated that any fine could be passed on to individual local authorities. The Greens have estimated that Oxford's contribution to the likely £300m UK fine could be as much as £0.4m.
As Oxford is one of the cities that continues to breach air quality guidelines it is highly likely that they will be expected to contribute to any EU fine levied on the UK Government." says Green Party campaigner and legal adviser Hazel Dawe. "I think that Oxford is in a particularly indefensible position as it is pushing ahead with a tripling of the Westgate development without first putting proper measures in place to reduce the associated air pollution from the extra traffic the scheme will generate.
Greens point out that the Low Emission Zone - which was phased in over a number of years prior to the December 2013 deadline - has yet to make a noticeable difference to City Centre air pollution levels. Last years figures actually showed an increase in air pollution.