Council misses third government deadline on its clean air plan
by Keri Beckingham
COUNCILLORS and activitists have spoken out after Bristol council missed a third deadline to submit a plan to clean up the city’s air.
The government wrote to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees in July giving a deadline of September 30 for the council to submit further plans on how it would bring the city into line with national legal limits by 2025. The letter, from Therese Coffey MP, Junior Minister for Air Quality in DEFRA, stated: “I would like to make clear that any delay or non-compliance with the September and December deadlines will result in me being forced to consider legal action against Bristol City Council which may include issuing proceedings without further notice.”
The city council has announced that an Outline Business Case (OBC) for a Traffic Clean Air Zone will be presented to Cabinet on November 5, and that the government has agreed to extend the deadline for submission of the OBC for a clean air zone by five weeks.
Research estimates that 300 people each year in Bristol die prematurely because of our dirty air 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.
Marvin Rees said: “We are continuing to take measures to improve both our air quality and our response to climate change.
“We remain committed to reaching Nitrogen Dioxide compliance as part of our work on air quality in the shortest time possible and this delay to the process does not set back either the implementation or compliance dates.
“At the same time however, we must ensure all impacts are considered and that mitigation measures are targeted to support those most affected, including the impacts on the most deprived communities. We also want to be certain that our ambitious clean air plans are fully scoped, have a strong evidence base to support them, and take into account the thoughts of our citizens.”
The council has been working very closely with the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), and they and the Minister are pleased with the progress that has been made. Additional measures to support the proposal could include a local scrappage scheme, supporting improvements to buses and taxis to bring them to compliant standards, bus and local traffic interventions in the most polluting areas, incorporating a bus lane on the M32.
Green Mayoral candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven said: “No deaths should happen in our city due to things we can change. The city has already fallen one year behind the likes of Birmingham, Leeds and Bath, who are implementing action on air quality. Not only are these cities complying with the law but they understand the importance of public health for their citizens.
“The Mayor’s lack of action also misses the benefits of implementing a Clean Air Zone. Improved health – especially for the poorest in the Inner city who are far more likely to suffer - must be prioritised. It is time for action, not just words.”
Geoff Gollop, Conservative councillor for Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze said: “My concern is that we have no idea what is being proposed. Residents should have been consulted on this before cabinet makes a decision.
“I'm disappointed that there has been no attempt to consider alternative ways of reducing pollution. We could look at purifying the air in pollution hotspots in the city using the latest equipment instead of banning vehicles from entering the centre.”
Anthony Negus, LibDem councillor for Cotham ward added: “Delivering a sustainable Clean Air plan is not simple. Many other cities have achieved it without missing three deadlines like Bristol. They have focused on measures to improve air quality that includes plans for addressing any disadvantaging effects.
“In Bristol the Mayor has approached this the other way round and unsurprisingly has been officially told that his latest plan won’t achieve by 2025 the improvement target set. This plan came from a flawed consultation when one of the two presented options was not legal.
“I always push the council to be the best but on this crucial issue Bristol is seriously off the pace. It is not getting to grips with how drivers will respond to the restricted zone. Will they drive around it, pay up or switch to alternative travel options? Where are the plans for creating real alternatives to fossil-fuelled cars? Scrappage will be part of reducing today’s problem but it’s not the solution.
“But first and foremost we still await a dynamic plan that sustainably solves the complex problem and works to benefit the whole city. If others can achieve this - so should Bristol.”
To find out more about Bristol’s clean air plans, visit: www.cleanairforbristol.org