Charging zones back on agenda as air pollution rates increase

January 08 2021

by Keri Beckingham

BRISTOL'S air pollution, which reduced  as a result of the spring lockdown, has risen again, data reveals.
Centre for Cities has found that toxic air is set to rise significantly across the country once Covid restrictions end. While the spring lockdown reduced NO2 levels by 38 per cent on average across 49 cities and large towns, pollution rose again in the second half of 2020 as activity increased, and Bristol has topped the list of places where NO2 emissions rebounded the most by September.
As reported in Bishopston Voice, a consultation was launched by Bristol City Council in October for the public to have their say on revised proposals for a potential Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the city, which would charge certain vehicles for driving into the city centre.
Research estimates that 300 people each year in Bristol die prematurely because of our dirty air, compared to just 12 in traffic accidents, and that air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions. The annual health cost of the impacts of poor air quality in Bristol is estimated at £83m.
Bristol City Council missed the third deadline to submit a plan to clean up Bristol’s air in September 2019. However, following further air quality modelling to explore alternative ways that traffic pollution could be reduced, the council consulted on a small and larger charging zone option, and in our area the larger zone would likely end at the junction of Berkeley Road/Gloucester Road.  
The consultation results are yet to be published. Speaking of Centre for Cities’ findings, Martin Fodor, Green councillor for Redland said: “We had countless messages during lockdown about the cleaner air and requests for action to keep it safe. More space for walking and cycling were top of the list.
“It’s sad to see illegal pollution levels back in the city so soon, with Bristol affected fastest by rising levels again. Sadly we anticipated the measures put in place in the city centre would not be enough to ensure safe, legal air.
“The recent consultation required by the government offered fall back small or medium charging zones but hasn’t explained the likely effects - but one of these projects is now likely to be put forward. We need to know what’s proposed and how it will affect nearby streets which are already affected by rat running.”
Tom Brook, Labour councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down said: “The consultation proposed to make use of air quality improvements experienced during the first Covid-19 lockdown thanks to changing driving patterns. The consultation also made clear that, if the improvements experienced proved not to be long-lasting, then charging zone options would be considered.
“If the figures in the Centre for Cities’ press release are correct, then it would indicate that the council will need to pursue charging zone options. So, whilst charging zones may not be popular, if they are needed then they are something that any responsible citizen should support.”
Anthony Negus, Lib Dem councillor for Cotham Ward added: “I can’t verify the source and timing of this data. It does not match currently intensified council monitoring.  If correct, something like the earlier chargeable Clean Air Zones will be the city’s solution that seeks to control the problem of unhealthy air, rather than solving it.  I hope these figures are wrong and there is sufficient ‘wriggle-room’ for the recent smarter active travel initiatives, nudging more sustainable behaviour to improve the long-term well-being of all citizens.
“Fundamental to this progressive thinking should be franchising our bus service, using government active-travel funds to resolve the great demand in Bristol for a clean, reliable, safe and easily-accessed means of getting everyone moving as needed, not as profit dictates.
“We need to accelerate our transfer to alternative means of clean(er) transport lest we slip back and also move up the agenda the movement of goods that no previous strategy has meaningfully addressed.”
Geoff Gollop, Conservative councillor for Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze said: “Air quality is a challenge for every city in the UK, it should be a right for every citizen and not be optional.
“Proposals must aim to reduce pollution, not just shift it elsewhere, and must be a delicate balance that does not threaten already fragile businesses. For example, it is now difficult to access the Theatre Royal, the SS Great Britain and part of the central area from North Bristol following the closure of Baldwin Street and Bristol Bridge. That either stops people visiting, or results in them driving much further.
“Most motorists accept we need to change, so I urge the city council to genuinely consult with the road users to find the best way forward, not introduce random schemes. The council might consider exempting blue badge holders from bus gates. Let residents contribute to the debate, not just hold a consultation to “rubber stamp” pet projects.”
To find out more about Bristol’s clean air plans, visit: www.cleanairforbristol.org