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Bristol Clean Air Zone may not be needed, says council

Plans to deploy a charging Clean Air Zone in Bristol may not need to go ahead as new work explores alternatives.

Bristol is looking at four different options for charging clean air zones as well as the potential for a non-charging zone.

The final business case setting out the council’s preferred scheme is due by February 2021

The scheme was due for launch in 2021, including a controversial diesel ban within a smaller area. But as with Leeds last week and a number of other councils, the plans are being revisited to explore new ways to transform travel – in particular to avoid the challenges drivers and businesses are already facing as a result of the pandemic.

While the council is required to implement a charging Clean Air Zone – in this case a Class C scheme –  by March 2021, it could avoid this if evidence shows another option would reduce air pollution faster.

As with other councils, it’s actually the pandemic that’s shown that other ways of cutting pollution might be feasible, as a result of changes to travel patterns. Latest air quality monitors have shown that despite traffic levels increasing, the city centre’s pollution has remained relatively low; the result of changes in lifestyle, work and travel behaviours due to the pandemic.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Our plans have always been about cleaning up our air in the fastest possible time and not being anchored to one method. We must be flexible in our approach and work together to get this right as a city. Everyone has a role to play in reducing air pollution and if we all rise to the challenge, we can avoid bringing in costly measures.

“We will continue to do the work needed for the charging options we’ve already been developing. It is right that we explore new opportunities in line with the dramatic changes in our lifestyles, travel and income that residents and small businesses experienced following lockdown. The end result could actually achieve cleaner air faster whilst avoiding unintended negative consequences caused by charging vulnerable communities in Bristol.”

The updated clean air plans include bringing forward ‘fast-track’ additional measures to improve air quality, including recent transport improvements, work to control signals to cut congestion and additional air quality monitoring units to keep track of progress.

There would also be proactive work to encourage residents and businesses to take responsibility for air quality in the city and promote different attitudes to travel and make use of the alternative options available.

The timetable will see the council’s Cabinet consider details for a public consultation planned for this autumn on the new proposals for charging zones, to accompany new evidence being collected.  The final business case setting out the council’s preferred scheme would be due by February 2021.

Depending on the outcome of the consultation and new evidence being collected, a small zone could be created in the spring of 2021 but only if needed, potentially going live to the public from October 2021.

But the plans will also include a scheme without charging, as being worked on with the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit.

Cllr Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member for Transport at Bristol City Council, added: “Through our new approach we can now build on the progress we’ve already made with cleaner transport options and ways to make it easier for people to travel sustainably.”

For further details on the revised clean air plans, visit cleanairforbristol.org.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.