Poor air quality in the UK has an effect equivalent to 40,000 deaths a year, and is the largest environmental risk to public health in our country. Research by Centre for Cities estimated that air pollution causes over six million sick days a year, it is a contributing factor to heart disease and impairs lung development in children. In Bristol round 300 deaths each year can be attributed to exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Earlier in the week I spoke at the launch of Centre for Cities 2020 Cities Outlook, their annual health check on the state of the UK’s largest cities and towns. The 2020 edition had a special focus on air quality in cities. The invite specifically highlighted that “Bristol is leading the way when it comes to cities taking the tough decisions needed to tackle air pollution.”
I understand that many people across the city are keen to get an update on how we are progressing with the clean air plans. Let me reassure them that we are making good progress on refining the plans and hope to be able to flesh out more of the details in the next couple of months.
We know that the menu of options made available to us by government don’t give us much flexibility, but our plans for a charging zone for non-compliant commercial vehicles and a small area ban for privately owned diesel cars 7am-3pm meant that we could meet the Government directive of achieving compliance quickest but also having the least impact on low-income households.
This is a very complex project and we are working with Government because it’s vital that we get it right. This will take time, but ultimately the priority for us is to meet the legal direction of delivering air quality compliance over the shortest period of time.
Following the submission of the Outline Business Case (OBC) in November last year, the team has been working hard on further developing the plans to go into the Full Business Case (FBC). They have been in regular discussion with the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), but we are still waiting for their formal direction on the next stage of our plans. We will hopefully get this in the next few weeks.
An important part of the refinement has been discussions with key stakeholders across the city about how best to minimise the impact of the plans. These discussions have led to us making some adjustments to the diesel ban area. This includes:
- Adjusting to allow for diesel cars to travel from A370 to A4
The planned boundary of the Diesel Ban area cut off a route for people who wanted to skirt round the zone from the south to the north, and vice versa. We have therefore altered the boundary giving access via Plimsoll Bridge and Portway.
- Adjusting to allow access to Cabot Circus for diesel cars
A challenge was put to us that the planned boundary of the Diesel Ban area would restrict access to Cabot Circus and result in shoppers potentially going to Cribbs, negatively affecting Bristol’s economy. We have worked with Cabot Circus and have amended the boundary so the car park can be accessed by those who want to drive and shop.
- Removal of the plans for a weight restriction on Marlborough Street and Upper Maudlin Street
Following extensive modelling it was agreed to remove the weight restrictions because this didn’t contribute to achieving compliance any sooner than if a weight restriction was applied.
We made clear when we first revealed the plans in the Outline Business Case that the boundaries of the two areas will be subject to change as things progress, and as this is an ongoing process, it will be some time before we can provide the final street by street information.
Many people are asking about exemptions and of course, we are acutely aware of the need to help vulnerable groups across the city. A key reason for this taking time is to ensure that these plans didn’t unfairly impact on lower earners. Discussions about this form a large chunk of the ongoing work, but unfortunately it’s not a simple process, as it all needs to be worked through. Sadly it’s not as easy as just granting exemptions, as every change to the plans need to be analysed in detail to check it doesn’t impact on the overall compliance.
We are now very close to agreeing a package of exemptions and mitigation measures that we feel will help lessen the impact. This is likely to include, amongst others:
- exemptions for disabled passenger vehicles and blue badge holders
- exemptions for low income households
- exemptions for patients needing to access the hospital
We are exploring replacing the proposed scrappage scheme with a grant and loan system. Other councils are doing a lot of work in this area and we are going to consider a number of potential options.
We continue to work with the government to secure the powers for a diesel ban, but this is part of our conversation about getting the best result for Bristol.
We have a moral, environmental and legal duty to clean Bristol’s air. We have been clear from the start that we want to do this in a way that looks after Bristol’s poorest and most vulnerable people while doing so in the fastest possible time, as directed by Government. In a city with many competing issues and priorities we recognise that actions can have unintended consequences. Within our work to develop the mitigations we go a step further.