Bristol City Council is set to adopt a plan that would see the city continue to breach legal limits for air pollution until at least 2025, having again loaded its options analysis against a Clean Air Zone that charges private cars.
A report to the council’s cabinet next week recommends a ban on private diesel vehicles in a small city centre area, combined with a (Class C) CAZ that would charge buses, taxis and goods vehicles.
The council described the ‘hybrid’ plan as ‘ambitious’, claiming that it ‘will deliver the fastest possible improvement in air quality against targets for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) legal limits’. It represents the merging of two previously separate options – a Class C CAZ with additional measures, and the small area diesel ban.
However, the council appears not to have considered whether charging private cars as part of the same package would deliver faster compliance with the limits enshrined in the EU Air Quality Directive.
Katie Nield, a lawyer with environmental campaign group ClientEarth, said that while the plans represent a step in the right direction, ‘they once again stop short of ridding the city of its illegally toxic air with the necessary urgency’.
She added: ‘It is not right that people in Bristol will have to wait until 2025 to breathe cleaner air when cities across the country are doing it much sooner.’
The report makes clear that the projected compliance date of 2025 was only achieved after expected pollution levels were recalculated for an area that was not expected to meet the limits until 2027.
It states: ‘The initial hybrid compliance date of 2027 … was driven by Church Road. Subsequent further work indicated that was due to an overestimation of traffic volumes on Church Road. When this was tested with more accurate data Church Road was found to be compliant by 2025.’
As Transport Network has reported, the council recently agreed to model a Class D CAZ that would charge private cars £9, combined with the additional measures that had previously been attached only to the Class C CAZ. However it does not appear to have included the small area diesel ban in this new modelling.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has repeatedly expressed his opposition to a CAZ that would charge private cars and the council’s latest approach continues a pattern of comparing such an approach against a Class C CAZ that has additional measures, with the result that the latter outperforms the former.
In many areas a Class D CAZ is predicted to achieve faster compliance than a Class C CAZ, until the diesel ban is added to the latter. In one case, the addition of the diesel ban brings forward the compliance date of a Class C CAZ by six years.
It also appears that the council could have achieved better driver compliance with a CAZ and possibly faster compliance with pollution limits if it had raised charges.
A council spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘Above a certain level there is little increase in compliance so there is no point increasing the charge above a certain point.’ This concedes that increased charges do improve compliance. However, although the council said it modelled compliance rates for higher charges, it does not appear to have published them.
Mr Rees said: ‘These ambitious plans demonstrate our commitment to tackling air pollution so we meet legal limits within the shortest time, without disproportionally affecting citizens on lower incomes which would happen with a blanket approach to charging vehicles.
‘Protecting the most vulnerable people from pollution is central to these plans and we have ensured that all impacts have been carefully considered. If approved, mitigation measures will support those most affected, especially those living in the most deprived communities.’
If the plan is approved by the council’s cabinet on 5 November, it will be submitted to the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) the following day.
The council said it will then continue to work closely with JAQU on preparing a full business case for submission next year. The deadline for the implementation of the plans is March 2021.