DRIVERS could be banned from Henley town centre if a low emission zone is introduced.
It is one of a series of measures designed to improve air quality in the town, which has some of the highest pollution levels in South Oxfordshire caused by traffic.
The plan comes just two weeks after environment group Henley in Transition recommended that the town centre should be pedestrianised during the day.
The average annual reading of nitrogen dioxide in Henley is 62.4 micrograms per cubic metre, compared with the 40mcm objective set by Air Quality England.
A new air quality action plan for South Oxfordshire produced by the district council says consultants assessed the effectiveness of different measures to tackle the problem.
“Part of this work looked at the possibility of introducing a low emission zone where vehicles can only enter if they meet required standards,” says the plan.
“The majority of the traffic in Henley is cars but they only contribute 46 per cent of the road nitrogen oxide levels. Conversely, heavy goods vehicles and buses make up just three per cent of the traffic but contribute 33 per cent of the total emissions.
“Therefore, we need to focus on all vehicle types in order to achieve the improvements needed in air quality. Through-traffic is often perceived to be the primary cause of poor air quality in Henley but, according to traffic counts, this is only 30 per cent of the traffic in the town.
“To meet the air quality standards for Henley we need to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels by 22.4 mcm and in order to achieve this we need to reduce road nitrogen dioxide emissions by 36 per cent or total nitrogen dioxide emissions by 28 per cent.”
The council has commissioned a feasibility study which is being funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The plan also suggests introducing a “park and stride” scheme to encourage people to park on the edge of Henley and walk in.
This would be dependent on funding and finding a suitable car park to use.
It also suggests running a “cut your engine” campaign to encourage drivers to switch their engines off when queuing at traffic lights.
The council says it would contribute towards these initiatives but would need additional funding from elsewhere, including grants and contributions from developers through section 106 payments.
The plan says success depends on all the partners involved delivering their specific objectives, including Oxfordshire County Council.
“We have involved partners in drafting these actions to ensure their buy in,” it says. “The county council has been heavily involved in this draft plan as by law it must put forward transport-related actions it can implement to work towards meeting the air quality standards.”
Charles Langler, a member of Henley in Transition, said the group welcomed the plan.
He said: “What we have been doing in the years since the last report is encouraging cycling and vehicle weight restrictions as we can’t just stand still. The more people who know what the problems are the better.”
Henley in Transition wants to ban drivers from Duke Street, Market Place and part of Bell Street up to its junction with New Street to help improve air quality.
The ban could be enforced with moveable barriers, which would be in place during office hours from Monday to Saturday and all day on Sundays and public holidays.
In a recent poll on the Henley Standard’s website 66 per cent of respondents supported the idea.
The group has also suggested turning Hart Street into a European-style piazza with a paved terrace by the crossroads at the western end.
To take part in the public consultation on the plan visit www.southoxon.gov.uk/ airquality
A paper form is available from the council’s offices at South Oxfordshire District Council, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxon, OX10 8ED.
THE action plan also recommends introducing a low emission zone in Watlington, where the average annual reading of nitrogen dioxide is 51 micrograms per cubic metre, compared with the 40mcm objective set by Air Quality England.
It says: “Eighty-two per cent of the traffic in Watlington is cars which create 44 per cent of the roads’ nitrogen oxide levels. Conversely, heavy goods vehicles and buses make up just four per cent but also create 44 per cent of the total emissions.”
The problem is largely caused by the town’s central crossroads, which are a pinch point.
The plan recommends reviewing Watlington’s weight restriction zone and increasing enforcement of it as well as improving signage at the town’s entrance.
It also recommends removing on-street parking in Couching Street and part of Shirburn Street to help “smooth” traffic flow.
Ian Hill, chairman of Watlington Parish Council, welcomed the plan but said its advice was expected.
“There aren’t any quick fixes to this,” he said. “It [doesn’t really offer a lot in terms of any immediate solution to our problems but I think we were aware of that.”