A Clean Air Zone that includes charging private cars must be considered, said Therese Coffey MP.
A strongly worded letter from the Government minister has piled pressure on Mayor Marvin Rees to act more quickly and radically to address air pollution, despite his claims that low income drivers would be unfairly hit by changes.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I want to be very clear that your preferred option must deliver compliance in your local area in the shortest possible time, and have a robust evidence base to support it,” it read.
The council is currently consulting the public on two options for a traffic Clean Air Zone to tackle the city’s illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which it is legally required to reduce to compliant levels ‘as soon as possible’.
But the letter, from under secretary of state Therese Coffey MP and made public on Wednesday, has said that stronger options must be considered.
She stated that this must include a clean air zone option which would include the charging of private vehicles (Class D). Over 80% of the NO2 in the city comes from local traffic sources.
Over 80% of the NO2 in the city comes from local traffic sources.
It also restated that should the council not meet its September deadline to produce plans – which would then be signed off in December and implemented in 2020 – legal proceedings could begin.
The council has already missed two deadlines within the past year after being mandated by government to produce plans in 2017. Currently the city suffers illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, mainly from local traffic sources. Air pollution is estimated to contribute to 300 deaths per year in the city.
Delays by council, and the decision to pursue weaker options than plans it had originally tabled, have been fiercely criticised by opposition parties, campaigners and environmental law firm ClientEarth, who recently threatened legal action against the council.
Lawyer Katie Nield said ClientEarth’s concerns still stand and that the direction (letter) “goes some way to recognising those failures”.
“It’s good to see government requiring the council to reconsider their plans, but they need to make sure that firstly, that assessment goes far enough, and secondly that it translates into actual urgent action,” she said.
Mayor hits back
However Mayor Marvin Rees has hit back, stating that the letter amounts to “telling us to do things that we are already doing or planning to do, to the timescale that we had already set out.”
The mayor said that consultants had already been instructed to reexamine the case for a Class D zone.
The two options for a clean air zone that the council put out in the ongoing public consultation included a ‘medium-sized’ Class C charging zone which excluded private cars but included taxis, buses, vans and lorries. The other option involves banning diesel cars from a small city centre area for 8 hours a day. They were modelled to achieve compliance by 2028 or 2029 – over ten years after being first ordered by the government to take urgent action.
The mayor has repeatedly said that modelling of options including private cars would have an unacceptable impact on low income Bristolians, and that revised modelling did not appear to achieve air pollution compliance earlier than the options put forward.
The government counters that a shorter timescale of 2025 is possible, and that funding will be available for mitigation measures to reduce impacts on lower income drivers.
In response to the letter the mayor reiterated: “We have particular concerns about the impact on some of Bristol’s poorest people, but also on many other hard-working people who have been pushed even closer to the edge by years of austerity and disinvestment in public services by the government. Any CAZ option which could be taken forward will have technical modelling done to test the social and economic impacts.”
He added that a clean air zone was one of a wider collection of actions underway to improve the city’s air quality, including “negotiating a new bus deal for the city”, “looking at closing roads around schools during drop-off and pick-up times”, and establishing the ‘City Leap’ energy and infrastructure projects.
He continued that the council must be “empowered and funded to do more” and that he would “continue to press government for the investment, legislation and focus we need to make it easier rather than more difficult to deliver meaningful change”.