Delay in clean air action is defended by Labour despite criticisms, opposition parties put forward alternative proposals.
Mayor Marvin Rees used his speech to the Full Council in the Budget 19/20 session today to defend his actions regarding the Clean Air Plan, after missing the government-set deadline of 21 February to submit the plan to government.
Opposition parties used amendments to the budget to propose alternative strategies for improving Bristol’s air and reducing traffic on the roads.
The mayor wrote to the under secretary of state for environment Therese Coffey MP last week to explain his failure to meet the deadline, which had been extended from December, and which prompted Dr Coffey to say she was “absolutely astonished at your delay in improving air quality for the people of Bristol as quickly as possible”.
Rees wrote that he was “committed” to improving Bristol’s illegal and dangerous air
quality, which contributes to 300 early deaths in the city annually.
He said the modelling that had been done on previously proposed measures to improve air quality showed “would produce significant adverse impacts on low income groups, compounding the challenges we face tackling equality and economic exclusion.” He continued, “We also received warnings that the measures could undermine our economic strength.”
The Clean Air Plan, the mayor said, would be ready by March and would be “based on evidence”.
Pressure from opposition, but motions fail
However, opposition parties used amendments to the budget to push for action on reducing traffic and improving public transport.
The most dramatic was the Green Party motion to amend the budget to include a new congestion charge on vehicles coming into Bristol from outside of the city, which would raise revenue to improve the city’s bus system.
Rees trashed the amendment in his opening statement. He said the proposal was not just “mistaken and seriously flawed” but would be “illegal”. The amendment, Rees said, was an example of addressing climate change through the “prism of privilege”.
Presenting the amendment later in the meeting, Cllr Jerome Thomas disputed the claim that such a charge on out of town drivers only would be ‘illegal’. He argued that “quick, clean and cheap buses must form the backbone” of addressing Bristol’s traffic problems, and described the move as a “bold and vital step”.
However Labour councillor for Lawrence Hill, Hibaq Jama, strongly disputed the legality of the proposal, and claimed it would amount to racism to implement it, based on the areas that would or would not be subject to charging. The motion was voted down.
The Liberal Democrats also put forward motions to fund transport changes including a bus card for under-25s in Bristol to encourage travel by bus. These motions were too voted down.
In summing up the Greens’ view of the budget, Thomas pointed out that, among many other reasons, the group could not back the budget because it included “no budget or plan for improving Bristol’s air to make it legal”.
The budget passed with amendments.