Well before the pandemic, we recognised the moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up Bristol’s air. And today, on Clean Air Day, we are setting out the next steps in our plan to deliver cleaner air for the city and to do so in a fair and just way which brings all parts of the city with us.
We have taken steps to lock in the benefits that lockdown brought to our environment and air quality. Bringing forward major transport improvements – such as the closure of Bristol Bridge and Baldwin Street to through traffic, and the pedestrianisation of the Old City – have allowed us to improve traffic flow, reroute polluting vehicles from areas with low air quality, and to give priority to public transport, walking and cycling.
Before lockdown, we were also well on our way to making public transport in our city even more environmentally sustainable. We have worked closely with Firstbus to introduce biogas-powered buses, which cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85%. We have also secured funding for businesses in Bristol to loan free electric vehicles, in addition to launching the region’s new electric vehicle charging network (including a rapid charging station at Eastville Park).
All this has allowed us to make big improvements in Bristol’s air quality. We are covering all bases, however, and today we have launched our consultation so you can have your say on our revised proposals for a Clean Air Zone until 22 November. These include charging commercial vehicles, but also charging non-compliant private cars. We have long warned that charging non-compliant private cars would have a disproportionate effect on our poorest households who are more likely to own older vehicles which emit more pollution. That is why we want to press ahead with our more radical plans of redirecting traffic forward to bring Bristol’s air quality to compliant levels without a charge for private vehicles.
However, I want to stress that the retention of the benefits we saw during lockdown and the delivery of cleaner air in Bristol won’t come through the stroke of a pen in Whitehall, or solely from the efforts of the City Council.
We all need to minimise our contribution to air pollution in the city. Changing our transport habits are a big part of that, but we can – and must – do more. Unlike the government, the World Health Organisation particularly highlights how reducing particulate matter (PM) is crucial in order to cutting premature death through pollution. For us in Bristol that means, obeying the rules of the smoke control area that covers the whole city, and not burning wood on an open fire; and recycling waste rather than burning it on a bonfire.
Cleaning up the air in Bristol will require the whole city – all of us – to come together with a common purpose, adjusting the way we live to protect each other from pollution, particulates and toxic fumes.