In ENDS’ new Green Cities Index, England’s 55 primary urban areas are ranked on more than 30 environmental factors grouped into five categories – public realm, green behaviour, air quality, climate and water quality. Oxford finished ahead of Barnsley and Cambridge in a top five that stretches geographically from the south west coast to south Yorkshire.
Oxford ranked highly on several categories, including public realm and green behaviour. According to the data, its residents are among the greenest in England. Its recycling rate is the fourth highest in the country, the figures show, while the city has the fifth highest number of electric vehicle charging devices per 100,000 people in England. The city also scores strongly for green commuting behaviour, ranking highly in terms of the proportion of residents travelling to work by bicycle or on foot.
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Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, welcomed the city’s position at the top of the index. She said: “This is a fantastic achievement, and a credit to all those in our community who champion the environment. Our city has some wonderful green spaces, and our parks, meadows and rivers are a key part of the city’s identity.”
Barnsley, in second position on the overall list, was ranked top of the index’s public realm category, offering one of the highest proportions of accessible green and blue space per 1000 population, and also scored highly in terms of its air quality and water quality.
Third in the index, Cambridge, ranked highly on green behaviour, registering the largest proportion of adults who do any walking or cycling, for any purpose (at least five times per week).
The Green Cities Index was created following an extensive data project, drawing on data at ‘primary urban area’ level – a measure of the ‘built-up’ area of a town or city, rather than individual local authority districts. More than 30 environmental indicators from external data points were compiled and weighted in order to provide a ranking of England’s greenest urban areas.
READ MORE: How we made the Green Cities Index
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Jamie Carpenter, editor of ENDS Report, said: “In pulling together the ENDS Green Cities Index, we have been struck by the progress that is being made by many large towns and cities around England in improving their local environments, and the numerous green initiatives that are underway up and down the country. Cities like Oxford – and many others – have much to be proud of.
“However, there is much more to do, and too many green gaps remain. In particular, the data underlying the Green Cities Index shows that there are wide disparities between cities across a range of environmental outcomes. This matters, because green spaces are increasingly being recognised as important assets for supporting health and wellbeing. Investment to help tackle these inequalities will improve people's quality of life, and also help create cities that are more resilient to climate change.”
Oxford’s position at the top of the index has been welcomed by local leaders and institutions. Recent green initiatives in the city have sparked controversy, including a furore over the installation of low-traffic neighbourhoods, and a decision by the city council to serve 100% plant based meals at internal events.
But city councillors told ENDS that the city has a “long history of leading the way on environmental measures”. Anna Railton, cabinet member for Zero Carbon Oxford and climate justice at Oxford City Council, said: “We are home to the UK’s first Zero Emission Zone pilot, Europe’s most powerful EV charging hub, we held the UK’s first citizen’s assembly on climate change, and have recently launched the exciting Clean Heat Streets project, along with many other pioneering projects.”
Lord Mayor of Oxford, councillor James Fry, added: “Oxford is delighted to be elevated to top rank in the Green Cities Index. We are particularly proud of our initiative in establishing a Zero Emissions Zone in the city centre, which is due to be expanded soon. We are also proud of the installation of Britain’s largest EV charging complex and our success in winning bids to support our investment in an all-electric bus fleet to be in place next year.”
Head of environmental sustainability at Oxford Brookes University, Michele Morley, said: “This accolade positions Oxford as a global beacon of inspiration, a hub for green innovation, and a vision for a greener future.
“The city has made demonstrable strides in reducing its carbon emissions, adopting sustainable transport systems, protecting and enhancing its natural resources, improving air quality, and delivering a healthier environment for its residents, workforce and many visitors.”
Visit our dedicated Green Cities Index hub to view the full index, find out why Oxford topped the ranking and explore an extensive range of environmental data for each city, as well as interactive maps and dashboards.