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ClientEarth Communications

2nd December 2020

Air pollution
Pollution

Bristol: tell your council it's time to take air pollution seriously

Air pollution has been far above legal limits in the UK for 10 years and Bristolians have suffered the consequences.

Bristol has been identified as the place where air pollution has increased the most since the first lockdown.

If no action is taken, the Council has shown that illegal levels of air pollution will persist in Bristol for another ten years – bringing it to 20 years beyond the original deadline to meet legal limits.

ClientEarth won three court cases against the UK government for its failure to act on toxic air. Our court cases resulted in the government requiring a number of English local authorities to produce and implement local air quality plans to meet legal limits in the shortest time possible – as laid out in the law. Bristol City Council was one of those local authorities.

Bristol City Council’s failure to clean up the air

 In 2017, the government mandated Bristol City Council to look at how it could meet legal limits in the city to protect people’s health with no further delay. The Council should have presented a final plan by the end of 2018, but it failed to do so and it has since missed multiple extended government deadlines.

Road transport is the main source of illegal levels of air pollution in Bristol and private cars are responsible for over half of road emissions in some locations.

Last summer, the Council consulted on proposals to restrict the use of diesel vehicles in the city centre at certain times of day, or a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to restrict the most polluting vans, buses, coaches and lorries across a larger area.

Analysis from the UK government and local authorities across the country shows that Clean Air Zones are the most effective way to quickly reduce illegal air pollution. In our view, they should also be coupled with help and support for people and businesses, in particular people on low incomes and small businesses, to move to cleaner forms of transport.

Bath and Birmingham will become the first cities after London to implement CAZs in March and June next year. Bath has had the same amount of time as Bristol to come up with a plan.

But Bristol City Council abandoned the plan it proposed last summer. Instead of accelerating action to protect people’s health, it has further dithered and delayed.

Bristol’s latest plan delays action and falls short

Most recently, the Council announced that it is now working to avoid plans for a CAZ altogether in favour of alternative “fast track” measures - including extra cycle lanes, road closures and improvements to public transport.

While these measures are important to build a better city, we don’t know if – on their own – they can adequately tackle the toxic levels of pollution in the city. The Council has so far not provided any evidence to show their impact in the long term. In contrast, we already know that a CAZ could lead to immediate and lasting improvements to air quality in the city.

Whilst the Council is currently re-consulting on proposals for a revised CAZ, it is also putting its implementation on hold until October 2021 while it tries out these alternative measures. Given the threat to human health caused by air pollution in the city, our view is that the Council should be doing everything they can as quickly as possible. Continuing to drag their feet on getting a CAZ up and running simply delays potentially life-saving action on pollution still further.

As part of the current consultation, closing on December 13th, Bristol City Council is putting forward two CAZ options:

It is positive that both options would target all of the most polluting vehicles, including private cars. These vehicles are the largest source of illegal pollution in the city, so it is essential that they are included in any plan to tackle the problem. However, both options still have their faults.

It is clear that Option 1 does not go far enough. The Clean Air Zone boundary is too small and doesn’t cover all areas that are hit by illegal and harmful pollution levels. This option would not give everyone in the city the protection that they deserve.

Option 2 is certainly more ambitious, as it would also restrict some of the most polluting taxis, vans, buses and lorries across a wider area to better protect people’s health. However, the extent of its potential impact on pollution levels is unclear.

The Council has not yet published analysis to show exactly how this updated Option would improve pollution levels across the city – so we don’t know whether even Option 2 goes far enough, or whether a larger and stricter CAZ is needed to provide the protection that people’s health deserves and the law requires.

How can you have a say?

 You can tell your local leaders you want them to be ambitious in protecting your health and fighting dirty air. Go to the consultation page and fill out the online questionnaire before December 13th. You can also email your responses directly to transport.engagement@bristol.gov.uk.

To make things easier for you, we have prepared some suggested answers to the most important questions. You are welcome to use these in your responses and adapt as necessary.

Question 1. How concerned are you about the impacts of poor air quality in Bristol on your health and the health of your family?

Suggested answer: Very concerned

Question 5. Do you agree or disagree that 2020 option 1 is a good way to improve air quality in Bristol?

Suggested answer: Neither agree nor disagree

Question 6. Please tell us why you agree or disagree with 2020 option 1?

Suggested answer: I don’t think option 1 goes far enough to protect people’s health from illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in the city.

Bristol is set to suffer from illegal levels of pollution until 2030. The Council should be doing all it can to tackle the problem and protect people’s health in the shortest possible time.

Private cars are by far the biggest source of illegal levels of air pollution in Bristol. Therefore, it is right that they are included in the Clean Air Zone scheme. However there are two main problems with option 1.

Firstly, the Clean Air Zone boundary is too small and doesn’t cover all areas that are hit by illegal and harmful pollution levels. So, it’s not clear how this option could give everyone in the city the protection that they deserve.

Secondly, October 2021 is too long to wait for action to protect people’s health. Rather than spending more time searching for alternatives, the Council needs to commit to getting a Clean Air Zone up and running as quickly as possible. It is already 10 years since legal limits should have been met and the people of Bristol should not have to wait for another year for action. Bath was ordered to produce air quality plans at the same time as Bristol and will be putting a Clean Air Zone in place in March 2021. It isn’t clear why the people of Bristol are being short-changed.

Question 7. Do you agree or disagree that 2020 option 2 is a good way to improve air quality in Bristol?

Suggested answer: Agree

Question 8. Please tell us why you agree or disagree with 2020 option 2

Suggested answer: Of the two Clean Air Zone options put forward, I believe that option 2 would work better to protect people’s health from harmful and illegal levels of air pollution as it would also restrict some of the most polluting taxis, vans, buses and lorries across a wider area of the city.

Private cars are by far the biggest source of illegal levels of air pollution in Bristol. Therefore, it is right that they are included in the Clean Air Zone scheme.

However, October 2021 is too long to wait for action to protect people’s health. Rather than spending more time searching for alternatives, the Council needs to commit to getting a Clean Air Zone up and running as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, it is not clear whether Option 2 goes far enough. Whilst Clean Air Zones have been shown to be the most effective way to quickly tackle illegal pollution, the Council has not yet published detailed analysis of the impact either option will have on pollution levels in the city.  It has not shown whether Option 2 is likely to do all that’s needed to reduce pollution with the urgency that the law requires and people’s health deserves. The Council may need to go further, with a larger or stricter Clean Air Zone.

Question 12. If you have any further comments or suggestions, please provide them below.

Suggested answer:

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