It’s been a long time coming but it finally happened. On Friday November 6, the Bristol City Council voted to approve a Bristol Clean Air Zone, set to launch June 2022. The area designated by the council will cover the Floating Harbour, Castle Park, Temple Quay, and most of the City Centre.
Bristol Clean Air Zone
Plans to launch a Clean Air Zone around the city centre have been floated around a number of times, ever since Bath set out their plans for one in 2016. Indeed, a Bristol Clean Air Zone was meant to launch in October 2021, but plans got delayed over concerns about how it’ll financially affect small businesses and low income families.
The idea of a Clean Air Zone is to make sure that older cars are discouraged from coming into the area to allow the air to be less polluted. According to the plans, charges would not apply to European Emissions Standards (“Euro”) 4, 5 and 6 petrol vehicles (roughly 2006 onwards). Also charges would not apply to Euro 6 diesel vehicles (roughly end of 2015 onwards).
Anything that is under the Euro Emission Standards 1, 2 or 3 (cars, taxis or vans made in 1992, 1997, or 2001), however, can expect to be charged £9 a day to access the City Centre, whereas buses, coaches and lorries can expect a charge of £100 a day.
According to the council’s estimates, these plans will only affect 29% of vehicles that come through the City Centre.
Air pollution is deadly for health
Considering air pollution is estimated to have contributed to the deaths of 300 people in the last year within the city and that an estimated 75,000 polluting cars enter the city, these plans couldn’t have come at a better time.
“This is a real win for the city. We are introducing one of the most wide-ranging clean air zones in the UK which will see us not only reduce air pollution but also help people change how they travel, delivering a cleaner, greener and healthier city for years to come.”
Green Councillor, Tom Hathway, whom I interviewed about the city’s green policies a while ago, had this to say about this news;
“I’m really glad we’ve finally got a commitment from the administration for summer 2022 (nearly 6 years after it was voted on in 2016)…We’re also pleased that there is going to be additional support from the government for residents and businesses, but this is the smallest and least ambitious zone they have opted for. It leaves out areas like Lawrence Hill and Easton, where some of our most deprived are suffering from others pollution.”
Bristol is investing in a greener future
Millions of pounds will be available to people to adapt to the new plans and there will be a number of exemptions (hospital visitors, low-income families needing to travel to the centre for work, Blue Badge cars with disabled drivers/passengers, etc).
The city is also launching a scheme to help people switch to greener modes of transport, such as an increase of £5.9 million into public transport, £2.1 million for local bus and coach companies to make their vehicles greener, and £1.8 million in loans and grants for low-income families to upgrade their vehicles they use for travelling to work or study.
Will a Clean Air Zone be successful in reducing air pollution?
So, this begs the question, how successful can a Clean Air Zone be? Well, we need only to look a little down the River Avon to see.
In 2018, Bath and North East Somerset decided to launch a Clean Air Zone, coming into effect in March 2021. It had similar charges for the same types of vehicles with the same Euro Emission Standards. It has been seen as a success for the World Heritage City.
Nitrogen dioxide emissions have dropped 12% in 6 months since the Clean Air Zone was introduced, and non-compliant vehicles (such as LGVs, HGVs, buses, and coaches) entering the zone has dropped a resounding 49%. 217 of the 220 buses that operate along the bus routes are now completely compliant with the new rules.
Though Bristol and Bath are two very different cities, it is encouraging to see that a Clean Air Zone scheme can work. It’ll be interesting to see it work on an area much bigger than the Clean Air Zone in Bath.
Tom Hathway certainly thinks the Clean Air Zone will be a success, and an important steppingstone to bigger changes. “A Clean Air Zone is an important and long overdue step”. He told me;
“But we really need to change the way people are getting around the city, not just switching them to cars that are clean enough to be exempt from the charge. That’s why on Tuesday 9th, the Greens are taking a motion to full council proposing a Corporate Parking Levy. This will charge bigger businesses in the city that offer a free parking perk to staff.
“The scheme in Nottingham introduced now raises £9 million a year which is invested directly into making public transport reliable and more accessible – the carrot we desperately need to change people’s transport habits. Keep an eye out for the vote – it will be a key chance for the administration to put good words on tackling the climate emergency into real action.”
Both the Bristol Conservatives and Bristol Labour Groups voted through an amendment nullifying the Green motion, the latter citing concerns that the cost would go onto the ordinary citizen.
Personally, I can see no downsides to his plan or the Clean Air Zone. Many people in Bristol, myself included, thought that the Council was putting their plans to achieve the Net Zero Target on the back burner, doing what many governments have done in talking big and doing very little.
While they still have a ways to go when it comes to making the city more eco-friendly, this is certainly a great first step towards a cleaner, greener Bristol.