Bristol’s controversial clean air plans are one step closer to becoming a reality after they were approved by the city’s ruling Labour administration yesterday (November 5).
If the plans are adopted unchanged, all privately owned diesel vehicles will be banned from the city centre between 7am and 3pm from March 2021.
And commercial vehicles, such as buses and taxis, that do not meet emission standards would have to pay a charge of either £9 or £100 a day to enter a clean air zone (CAZ).
The council has not decided yet on a penalty for breaching the diesel car ban but assumed a fine of £60 in its technical modelling work, cabinet heard.
The clean air plans have drawn broad support because of the urgent need to tackle air pollution, which is estimated to kill 300 Bristolians a year.
But many of the details have been criticised for the impact they would have on low-income families, hospital visitors, businesses in the centre and people living in areas outside the CAZ.
Bristol City Council is under a legal obligation to reduce air pollution in the city by lowering toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels to within legal limits as quickly as possible.
It was among 24 local authorities ordered to improve air quality by the government in 2017.
Its outline plans were proposed following detailed technical modelling and public consultation on a diesel car ban and charging CAZ zone as separate options. The plans are expected to bring down levels of NO2 to legal levels by 2025.
Officers have said that the so-called ‘hybrid’ option approved is the only “reasonable” way to meet the legal requirement, as the only other possible alternative would have involved charging private drivers to enter the CAZ zone as well.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said the hybrid plans were the “quickest route” to legal NO2 levels and “take care of people on the lowest incomes”.
Cabinet heard the concerns of members of the council’s overview and scrutiny board, which included how the proposals would affect both access to the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital and air pollution in residential areas surrounding the CAZ.
Scrutiny board chair Geoff Gollop also noted that members were given insufficient time to consider the plans, as they had “effectively 36 hours to digest more than 1,000 pages”.
The Mayor said the council had already begun thinking about how to manage the “negative consequences” of the clean air proposals.
To public applause, he said the government should stump up “real money” and “legislative space” to support its legal directive for the city to reduce its NO2 levels.
Cabinet member for housing Paul Smith said he was “astounded” by some of the concerns raised by scrutiny given the need to tackle air quality, especially given the predicted growth in the number of city centre residents in the next few years.
Green mayoral candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven said he thought it was unrealistic to assume that people would upgrade their vehicles by March 2021 and that the government would make the necessary law change for a diesel car ban.
A spokeswoman for the SS Great Britain Trust said trustees were concerned that the private diesel car ban would threaten the survival of the tourist attraction.
Campaigner Oliver Fortune sought assurance that bus ticket prices would not rise in response to the plan and was told that First Bus’s fleet should be clean enough to escape CAZ charges by the time the scheme is in place.
Christina Biggs from the Bristol Clean Air Alliance said the group “broadly” supported the blanket diesel car plan because it affected poor and wealthy alike.
But Green councillor Jude English wondered whether, in reality, people who could afford the diesel ban fine would just enter the area anyway. She noted the government would not necessarily accept the council’s outline clean air plans.
The plans are due to be submitted to the government today (November 6). They were meant to be submitted at the end of last year, and the council has missed three deadlines since then.
The council will now develop the plans further, and consult on exemptions, mitigations and requirements, before submitting the final plans to the government in February 2020. The changes should be in place by the end of March 2021.