How is air quality measured in Oxford?

We have asked for information on how air quality is tested and here is the City officer’s response.

Local Authorities throughout the country use diffusion tubes as a relatively low cost, easy to use method of monitoring nitrogen dioxide in the air.  A diffusion tube is made of plastic and is 7.5cm long, and 1cm in diameter. Each end is sealed with a cap; one is coloured and the other is white.

When we are ready to monitor we take off the white cap and place the tube in position. This is often at the side of busy roads and we attach the tube using a plastic holder and tie wrap.  Inside the coloured cap there is a metal grid that has been soaked with a special fluid called ‘triethanolamine’ or TEA.  Once the tube is in position air is ‘drawn up’ into the tube by the process of molecular diffusion.


diffusion tube


This works because the nitrogen dioxide in the air moves from a higher level at the open end of the tube to lower concentrations at the closed (coloured cap) end of the tube. The closed end always has a low level of NO2 because the TEA fluid on the grid absorbs this pollutant.  When we have finished measuring, usually after one month, we put the white cap back on so no more NO2 will get in.

The time the tube is open is called the ‘exposure period’.  The tube is sent to a laboratory where the NO2 is removed and measured. The result is the average NO2 in the air at that location for one month.

We currently have a network of over 50 diffusion tubes around Oxford monitoring the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Air quality in Headington

A briefing has been issued by the City Council on air quality in the City.

In 2012 a number of monitoring sites exceeded permitted levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) and this is thought to be caused by traffic:

  • 24 of the 48 monitoring sites exceeded the permitted annual mean for NO2 (20 were in the central area, 1 was on the Northern by-pass and 3 were at Green Road Roundabout).
  •  10 of the 48 monitoring sites exceeded the hourly mean for NO2 (all in central area).

NO2 is mainly derived from road traffic and levels in Oxford’s air have not reduced as much as predicted. This is believed to be due to the failure of diesel exhaust emission systems to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions as specified by vehicle manufacturers, when used in urban driving conditions.

Our concern about poor air quality has been increasing since Super Output Area data revealed significantly higher results  in the Windmill Road area. We have requested more specific data , and will publish this on receipt.

The Oxford Area Strategy, which forms part of the Local Transport Plan is available here It is well worth a read as it makes many references to Headington. The up and coming Neighbourhood Plan will seek to improve the environmental well-being of those who live and work in Headington – this document is a good starting point.

An Air Quality Action Plan has been produced (July 2013) and public consultation starts on the 17th July and will run till the 17 September. The plan highlights the need for an integrated approach to reducing emissions that impact on air quality and contribute to climate change. The overall objective of the plan is to: “Pursue the achievement of air quality standards and objectives across the city, and reduce carbon emission from transport activity”’.

Individuals and groups will be able to  respond to the consultation on this plan through the Council’s on-line consultation portal , or by visiting the Council’s customer contact centre at St Aldate’s Chambers.

The consultation will run from 17 July until 17 September.



Ed Davey MP writes… The Green Deal goes live


Today marks a very significant achievement of the Lib Dem  party in Government. The Green Deal is being launched.

After two and half years of toil the pledge in our manifesto to, “offer a home energy improvement package … paid for by the savings from lower energy bills” has become reality.

Chris Huhne started the ball rolling way back in 2010 and Nick Clegg and I are visiting a college in Sheffield today to mark the opening of a brand new market in home energy efficiency and meet trainees in home insulation.

Millions of homes do not have full double-glazing. More than half do not have enough insulation or an efficient condensing boiler. Most do not even have proper heating controls. Homes and businesses across Britain are wasting energy and money, yet demand for energy efficiency measures remains low.

The Green Deal will let people transform their homes by allowing them to pay for energy efficient home improvements with the savings on their energy bills. And hundreds of pounds in “cash back” is currently available to householders in England and Wales as well. Households quick off the mark could get over £1,000 cash back.

The Green Deal is empowering consumers by providing more options for making home improvements. One of the many advantages of the Green Deal is that consumers can benefit from an impartial assessment, and they can decide which company they want to use for the installation. They can pay for the cost of the work in a way which suits them. This is not a centralised restrictive scheme like Labour with huge administration costs and baffling bureaucracy.

All Green Deals will have to pass the ‘Golden Rule’. This limits the amount of Green Deal finance you can get to the estimated energy bill savings from the new measures. Hence, the Green Deal charge on future electricity bills will include both the cost of the measures and the finance, and that will be less than the energy savings. So people get warmer homes and pay less – and the Golden Rule means consumers can be confident of a great green deal!

With expensive measures such as solid wall insulation you can get extra help with the costs from the Energy Company Obligation that mandates the companies to subsidise those more expensive green deal measures.

We’ve also set up a robust set of rules to protect consumers including warranties for work done, a system of redress, sanctions for sub standard providers and a independent adjudicator. All Green Deal providers must be approved and identified with the Green Deal ‘kite mark’.

And it’s not just good for homeowners and tenants, it’s good for business too. There are currently 24 registered Green Deal providers including Kingfisher (owners of B&Q and Screwfix), British Gas, NPower, Carillion and Wolsey (owners of PlumbCentre) and the number is set to increase.

This means new green jobs – tens of thousands across the country – in energy efficiency and in the supply chain.

And by switching some of our subsidies away from loft insulation and easy to treat cavity walls – most of which have been done – to solid walls and hard to treat cavity walls – which past governments largely ignored – there will be more green jobs, more carbon saved and less fuel poverty.

This is just the latest in a long line of achievements we can be proud of that will build a stronger economy in a fairer society.

You can find out more about the Green Deal here

Today: Low-Carbon Headington AGM

It’s only a few years ago that Low-Carbon Headington was established; I remember well the launch event in Headington Baptist Church. Since then, it has, thanks to its core group led by Jill Haas and Mary Gill, become an important part of the community landscape — a regular presence at the Farmers’ Market, a contributor to meetings including one of your Ward Focus Meetings, and the centrepoint of a series of events raising awareness about our carbon footprint and helping households play their part in tackling climate change.

If you’ve not been involved with it, now is the time, with their AGM taking place tonight — 22nd May 2012 — in the main site of Brookes at 7:30pm. They have some interesting speakers on eco-living and sustainable lifestyles. It will be a good occasion to reflect on what has been achieved in the past year, and how much more needs to be achieved in the near future!

New Headington residents clean up!

New Headington residents clean up!

New Headington residents clean up!

Once more, New Headington Residents’ Association tackled the usual problem area in Kennett Road on Saturday at one of the Civic Society sponsored OxClean events. Well done to Mary, Kate, Charles, Wiltrid and Helena who all worked really hard to clear that patch of ground at the foot of the steps leading to flats at 104 London Road (opposite the Iceland loading yard)

It was useful for me as I learned from a neighbour that there is sometimes a rough sleeper in that area – if you see him, please contact David or me so that we can make sure he knows how to get accommodation and food.

Thanks to Helena for this less than charismatic photo of yours truly!

Headington Councillor Ruth Wilkinson weeds for OxClean!

Ruth helps with the weeding in Kennett Road! Photo: H Ayyub

Minister responds to City Lib Dem lobbying on feed-in tariffs

In response to the issues raised by the City Lib Dem Group about feed-in tariffs, Lib Dem Minister for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne has replied:                

“Re community schemes, I am considering whether more could be done to support genuine community projects in the FITs scheme. I will provide more detail on this in the second consultation on the comprehensive review, which I will publish this month.”

 The City Lib Dem Group is lobbying for a higher tariff return for community schemes.

Shock announcement: Oxford in Bloom to fold?

The city council has announced that Oxford in Bloom may fold after a lack of competition entries this year.  There have been fewer than 100 registered entries and without a significant increase in numbers the competition may not continue.  Over recent years the numbers of entrants has dropped, and Oxford City Council is urging people to show their commitment to next year’s competition.

To help retain the competition for 2012 and beyond, register your interest or support by contacting Oxford City Councils Parks & Open Spaces team on 01865 252240 or email

The Oxford in Bloom competition is open to all people in the city and the categories include most florally attractive gardens, containers, commercial properties as well as the junior oxford in bloom, for individuals or schools and community groups.

Trophies are awarded in each category, and prizes valuing £100, £50 and £25 are handed out to the top three winners in each residential and community group categories.  Certificates of merits are presented to all entrants who attain marks over 65 points. Business Headington & Partners entered for the first time this year with their hanging baskets along the London Road and collected a bronze award for their efforts. The group raised money from local businesses to fund the project.

Concern about Rock Edge

Residents have contacted us because they are so concerned about the perceived ‘damage’ caused to Rock Edge Site of Special Scientific Interest by the County Council’s Old Road traffic management scheme works. The boundary has been dug into in order to make the footway wider with permission by Natural England.

The topsoiled bank is currently fenced off in order to let new grass seed bed in. This is to avoid the topsoil being trampled down the slope and spreading across the footway. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain too hard!

New dog control powers

Parks Officers, Community Wardens, the Dog Warden, Environmental Enforcement officers, PCSOs and Neighbourhood Police Officers can now issue fixed penalty notices of £80 for a variety of offences.

New powers include:

  • Increased fines for dog fouling
  • banning dogs from play areas in the parks
  • putting dogs on leads at the request of authorised officers
  • limiting the number of dogs any person can be in control of in a public place to 4.