Defra stalling on Bristol pollution plan


Bristol City Council looks set to miss the latest deadline over its plans to tackle air pollution, due to ministerial indecision.

As Transport Network has reported, the council has repeatedly missed government-imposed deadlines to submit business cases to improve air quality in the city, where pollution levels breach legal limits, contributing to the equivalent of five premature deaths every week.

Whiteladies Road, Bristol

In July, after a series of missed deadlines, the then environment minister, Therese Coffey instructed the council ‘to deliver an Outline Business Case (OBC) by 30 September and a Full Business case (FBC) by 23 December’.

It has already been disclosed that ministers put the deadline back, following a council request. It appears that the second deadline has also been quietly extended.

Council documents have disclosed that ‘by a letter from the Minister dated the 26th September it was accepted that ‘an OBC should be submitted by 6th November 2019, with FBC to be submitted by February 2020'.

The minister at environment department Defra with responsibility for air quality is Rebecca Pow, who was appointed parliamentary under secretary of state on 10 September 2019 and remains in post after the reshuffle.

Bristol City Council has told Transport Network that it requires ministerial sign-off of its OBC before it can submit its FBC. In November Defra claimed that it was not able to respond to Bristol’s plans ‘due to the pre-election guidelines’. The General Election took place on December.

Although this sign-off could be secured by the end of the month, the council’s cabinet will need to agree the FBC, which may be amended as a result of government direction. This means that it is almost certain that the February deadline will be missed.

As Transport Network has reported, the council has watered down its plan for a city centre ban on private diesel cars since submitting its OBC. It is unclear whether this has delayed Defra approval although it appears that officers from the two bodies are in regular contact.

Defra told Transport Network that it would ‘assess Bristol City Council’s plan to ensure it is effective, fair, good value and will deliver the required improvements in air quality in the shortest time possible’.

Defra did not however give a timescale for responding to the plan, stating only that it would do so ‘in due course’.

Transport Network has approached Defra for further comment.

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