The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on everyday life in this country. While we deal with the immediate public health crisis, we know that the most far ranging effect will be felt in our economy.
Despite the incredible, and welcome, state intervention in our economy, the completely necessary social distancing measures adopted by most major countries mean that businesses large and small in Bristol have seen significant impact. We are already in a Covid provoked recession. The next few months we will nervously watch the markets and indexes for signs of a global depression, almost as fearfully as we watch statistics and graphs showing the spread of the disease now.
During this period of extreme uncertainty the people and businesses in Bristol are understandably very concerned about their futures. This is why despite this immediate challenge, we must look at the recovery, and our clean air plans.
We understand the moral, environmental and legal imperative to achieve clean air compliance. We have always been determined to do so while protecting the poorest in our city. We have been prepared to work with government, give national leadership on this issue and shown our determination to deliver clean air for Bristol with our proposals. And we remain committed to delivering clean air for the city which will improve the quality of life for all the people in Bristol. However the circumstances have changed significantly since we submitted out outline plans last year.
On 13th March 2020, following months of conversations with civil servants we were formally given direction from Rebecca Pow MP Secretary of State for the Environment. This included agreement for initial funding of £12m to facilitate us developing the implementation and contract arrangements for a Clean Air Zone in Bristol.
As part of the direction given, we were also asked to submit further evidence on additional measures – the proposed small area diesel ban, and as an alternative a small area CAZ D, and a full business case by September 2020 so the scheme could be implemented by March 2021, as has always been planned.
Under normal circumstances my team would be able to meet these dates, however these are not normal times.
Recognising that Covid19 has changed many aspects of life, I wrote to Grant Shapps, the Secretary for Transport, on the 27th March asking for the government to seek urgent cross government reassessment of our proposed traffic clean air zone.
During this time of crisis, I urged the government to reconsider timescales for the whole programme during this period of uncertainty. I do not think that now is an appropriate time to directly engage with the business community and people of Bristol on how we develop appropriate mitigations to reduce the impacts CAZ may have for them.
I have suggested, as a pragmatic approach, that we continue with the planning and development work but then stop short of implementing the scheme, and look at the programme implementation times. This will allow Government to work with us to rethink how our scheme might be delivered to meet the imperative to achieve clean air in a way that will protect businesses from being further financially penalised. Improving air quality is a crucial challenge, for our future as a sustainable, resilient and inclusive city, and so is restarting our economy too.
I am pleased that the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) have already reached out to acknowledge that local government is facing significant challenges because of this crisis and that timelines will need to be flexible. I welcome their commitment to an ongoing dialogue as and when we emerge from this immediate emergency. They have now issued an initial blanket change of direction, so that the other few cities who were ahead of us in the process have been instructed to slow down to look again.
We will continue to work through the detail of the Direction and its potential implications with JAQU, and I am committed to working to achieve legal levels of nitrogen dioxide in our city. I am also determined to support our city’s people, communities and economy recover in an inclusive and sustainable way.
Our economic prosperity and response to the COVID-19 crisis must put all people at the heart of what we do, enabling us to thrive as a city improving the well-being of all of our residents and businesses #wearebristol