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Mayor Marvin Rees says that the coronavirus pandemic has made alternative plans possible for Bristol.

Bristol City Council is working on a ‘bigger and bolder’ alternative to its current plans for a diesel ban and clean air zone (CAZ) in the city.

Mayor Marvin Rees said the alternative plans, made possible by the Covid-19 crisis, could hasten the city’s progress towards legal compliance with clean air definitions. He did not spell out details of what was proposed but said it could bring air pollution in Bristol down to within legal levels by the end of 2022.

Modelling shows the council’s existing clean air plans would bring compliance by 2023. Those plans would see a ban on privately owned diesel cars in a small part of the city centre and a wider CAZ which older, polluting vehicles would have to pay to enter. 

The CAZ must be in place by April next year but the government has concerns about the diesel ban and has ordered the council to consider swapping it for a small zone exactly like the surrounding CAZ but charging private vehicles as well.

Watch: Lessons from lockdown – how can Bristol battle air pollution?

Watch: As traffic on Bristol’s streets returns to normal following lockdown, air pollution has returned to illegal levels. The invisible killer increases strokes, heart attacks, asthma and can have negative impacts on pregnancy and children's lung capacity.The Council is yet to roll out a Clean Air Zone which could save lives and reduce illnesses. Now Extinction Rebellion protestors are camping out on the roof of Bristol City Hall calling for immediate action on clean air.In this documentary, shot over 2019 and 2020, we look at how air pollution affects Bristolians and what can be done to protect our futures.

Posted by The Bristol Cable on Tuesday, 30 June 2020
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However, the mayor remains fiercely opposed to any scheme which would charge private car owners as modelling shows this would disproportionately affect families from poorer households.

Air pollution levels have fallen below illegal levels because of lockdown measures meaning people stayed at home more. However, in recent weeks as lockdown measures have eased, pollution levels have returned to illegal levels again.

The mayor told city councillors the authority’s “hybrid” plans for a diesel ban plus CAZ would affect 600 Bristol families earning less than £25,000 a year, whereas a scheme charging private car owners would affect 6,000 such families.

He said the council was still pursuing a hybrid model but was also working with the government on a “bigger and bolder” alternative made possible by the interruption of existing transport plans and the opportunities to change traffic flows presented by the Covid-19 crisis.

Rees cited the acceleration of plans to pedestrianise the Old City, the closure of Bristol Bridge and Baldwin Street to through-traffic, and the widening of pavements and introduction of cycle lanes to 20 streets in the city.

Addressing councillors before a meeting of full council on Tuesday, 7 July, he said: “We actually think there’s an opportunity to do something bigger and bolder that actually brings compliance forward from 2023 to the end of 2022.”

“We’ll continue to work on the clean air zone hybrid option but we’ve got that commitment now for them [the government] to work with us on another option that may bring compliance further forward.”

The announcement comes after Extinction Rebellion protestors camped out on the roof of City Hall to demand more radical action to tackle air pollution. The Mayor hit back and said the protest was “privileged activism”. 

The council did not respond to a request for more information about the alternative proposal.

The government ordered the council, along with 24 other local authorities, to reduce its nitrogen dioxide to legal levels as quickly as possible in 2017.

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