Rees promises action but little in the way of detail and timeline
Clean Air Day was lively across the city yesterday, with community events held in St George, the city centre and Bishopston among other neighbourhoods. The mayor also delivered a speech to a select crowd at the Create Centre on Spike Island outlining the administrations work on air quality and carbon reduction.
It came after a week of contention over the administration’s progress on a Clean Air Plan for the city. The council are legally required by the government to produce the plans as many areas of Bristol breach legal levels of deadly pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an emission from vehicles, particularly diesel. The authority has missed two central government deadlines for producing a Clean Air Plan and is facing the threat of legal action.
Air pollution has been estimated to contribute to 300 deaths in the city every year, with effects felt worse in more deprived areas in central Bristol.
Two proposals for plans to tackle Bristol’s traffic were addressed in a council meeting on Tuesday. The mayor was challenged by members of the public and councillors on the delay of the Clean Air Plan and the contents of the two options which will go to public consultation in July. Concerns were also raised that the plans contain no information on how and with what speed they will improve the public health emergency and an apparent lack of transparency.
Cllr Paula O’Rourke, Green councillor for Clifton and chair of the growth and regeneration scrutiny commission, challenged the mayor on the fact that key documents released last week were not available to the commission earlier. In the February 21 meeting of the scrutiny commitee, she said she “was told there was nothing ready. So you can imagine I was quite surprised when this came to Cabinet to see a report that was produced in January”.
She continued: “You can see this gives rise to scepticism and alarm… Why was this report not made available to the meeting on the 21st February?”
For months the administration had refused calls from councillors to release the report, and refused Freedom of Information requests by journalist Joanna Booth and campaigners with Bristol Clean Air Alliance.
More talk on clean air but no specifics
During his address at the conference yesterday, the mayor sought to emphasise the work of the authority on the wider climate emergency. Mayor Rees stated that the Bristol Leap energy project – that will see a combined heating and power networks in new developments, for example – will “put us on a path to be a leading carbon reduction city in the UK” and spoke of “opening up of possibilities” for a mass transport system like an underground.
He also emphasised his criticism of the environmental movement as lacking in diversity: “Unless we take poverty’s impact seriously, the environmental movement will lack, as it has lacked, the class and racial diversity it desperately needs.”
However, no more details were released on the progress of the Clean Air Plan and the implementation of the initiatives. The mayor emphasised that any negative effects on people travelling in the city for work would be reduced by mitigations, but did not outline what they could be. He also outlined other steps the authority plans to take, including improved monitoring of NO2, action to reduce emissions from construction, and ‘greening’ Bristol with more tree coverage.
It is unclear when these plans will be put into place as the mayor stated that most initiatives are reliant on increased funding from central government. Further proposals, such as increasing the powers of the council to restrict the use of highly polluting wood burners would need a change in national legislation to implement.
Elsewhere Clean Air Day events took place throughout the day, aimed at raising awareness of air quality and encouraging active transport. Bristol’s first poet laureate Miles Chambers performed at a gathering in Castle Park his poem on air pollution – “you can’t arrest the rain, you can’t handcuff the wind”.
Clean Air Bishopston also ran a day of events including children’s activities, information workshops and a free breakfast for cyclists. Across the city Bristolians were encouraged to make a Clean Air Day pledge, such as changing their mode of transport for the day.
Extinction Rebellion held a protest on Gloucester Road in the afternoon, stopping traffic briefly to chant about the importance of addressing air pollution.
The public consultation on Bristol’s Clean Air Plan will launch on 1 July.