Fresh opportunities to transform travel are being explored to clean up Bristol’s air quality in the shortest possible time without needing to charge or ban certain vehicles, as the UK faces its deepest ever economic depression.
Bristol City Council is looking at an alternative option to improve air quality in line with legal duties and a direction from government. This would avoid compounding the challenges already facing citizens and businesses.
Bristol is required to submit a scheme that would implement a Clean Air Zone, which is a specific location where action is taken to improve air quality. To reduce exposure to air pollution, including nitrogen dioxide which comes from car fumes, the zone enforces restrictions and offers incentives to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles.
Options Bristol has explored to date include:
- A Clean Air Zone (CAZ C) over a medium area, which charges polluting (non-compliant) commercial vehicles such as buses, coaches, taxis, private hires, heavy and light goods vehicles, but not private cars. Bristol is required to implement this by March 2021, unless evidence shows another option can reduce air pollution faster. Therefore work will continue on this option.
- A hybrid Clean Air Zone scheme featuring the medium area Clean Air Zone (CAZ C), as above, and a smaller zone where private diesel vehicles are banned from entering between 7am and 3pm daily. The government no longer requires the council to proceed with the option of a diesel ban. The Final Business Case on the original hybrid approach is now no longer required to be submitted on 18 September.
- A Clean Air Zone over a small area (CAZ D) for all older, more polluting vehicles (non-compliant). This is an extension of CAZ C to include non-compliant private vehicles. Bristol is required to consider modelling and implementing this option alongside considering additional measures, such as improving walking and cycling and traffic flows. If evidence shows a Clean Air Zone is required, the council is proposing to introduce this small charging zone, rather than a medium sized area, if this reaches compliance in the shortest possible time.
Changes to travel patterns as a result of Covid-19 have shown new possibilities. Latest air quality monitors demonstrate that despite traffic levels increasing, the city centre’s pollution has remained relatively low. It’s partly due to changes in lifestyle, work and travel behaviours as a result of the pandemic.
Building on this progress, it is proposed Bristol could continue accelerating transport improvements, such as a return to improved public transport links to road changes, increased walking and cycling routes and pedestrianising areas like the Old City. This will help clean up journeys and encourage more people to change their travel habits.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said:
“Our plans have always been about cleaning up our air in the fastest possible time and not being anchored to one method. We must be flexible in our approach and work together to get this right as a city. Everyone has a role to play in reducing air pollution and if we all rise to the challenge, we can avoid bringing in costly measures.
“We will continue to do the work needed for the charging options we’ve already been developing. It is right that we explore new opportunities in line with the dramatic changes in our lifestyles, travel and income that residents and small businesses experienced following lockdown. The end result could actually achieve cleaner air faster whilst avoiding unintended negative consequences caused by charging vulnerable communities in Bristol.”
The updated clean air plans include bringing forward ‘fast track’ additional measures to improve air quality. They include:
- Recent transport improvements, such as those introduced using emergency government funding; the closure of Bristol Bridge and Baldwin Street to traffic and lane closures in specific pollution problem locations (Upper Maudlin Street / Marlborough Street and Lewins Mead/Haymarket) and associated cycle schemes in the proposed Clean Air Zone
- Closure of Cumberland Road to inbound traffic, for which plans are in development and is temporarily in place while Chocolate Path repair works are ongoing
- Controlling signals to improve the flow of traffic, enhancing air quality in pollution hotspots
- Additional air quality monitoring units to keep track of progress
- Empowering residents and businesses to take responsibility for air quality in the city and encourage different attitudes to travel and make use of the alternative options available.
As part of the council’s new ‘test and learn approach’, transport upgrades will be rigorously reviewed against an evidence base on traffic, travel patterns and air pollution levels.
If modelling shows Bristol can sustain improved air quality and traffic levels, it could mean planned charging measures on polluting vehicles are no longer needed.
On 1 September, the council’s Cabinet will consider details for a public consultation planned for this autumn on the new proposals for charging zones, to accompany new evidence being collected. This would mean setting a new deadline of February 2021 for submission of the Final Business Case, setting out the council’s preferred scheme. Depending on the outcome of the consultation and new evidence being collected, a small zone could be created in the spring of 2021 but only if needed, potentially going live to the public from October 2021.
In light of the new opportunities, Cabinet will also consider proposals for developing the option without charging, alongside charging measures directed by government.
Cllr Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member for Transport at Bristol City Council, added:
“We’ve already rapidly brought forward our long-standing plans to improve walking, cycling and bus journeys in the city centre to help Bristolians get around safely during the pandemic. This has meant major changes for many, which will take time to adjust to, but it’s already shown we can all adapt and do things differently if we want to live and work in a healthy environment.
“Through our new approach we can now build on the progress we’ve already made with cleaner transport options and ways to make it easier for people to travel sustainably.”
The council has been working with the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit to develop the full range of options, including a scheme without charging.
For further details on the revised clean air plans go to cleanairforbristol.org. The Cabinet papers for 1 September meeting will be published on the website on Friday.