Local and national clean air zones to meet legal limits on air pollution

19 December, 2018


Both the local and central government have exceeded legal limits on air pollution, and Bristol has until the end of the month to announce its Clean Air Zone plan to fix the problem.

Bristol was one of 23 local authorities named in the government’s Air Quality Plan, in July 2017, and tasked with reducing nitrogen dioxide levels to meet air quality targets set by the EU. Bristol City Council currently monitors pollution levels in Brislington, Fishponds, Bedminster and Knowle, whilst Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) monitors sites in St. Paul’s and Temple Way. The World Health Organisation revealed in May 2018 that Bristol had 10mg per cubic metre of fine particle emissions.

These harmful emissions can cause major health problems, such as respiratory diseases in children and adults, and minor issues such as headaches and vomiting. In February 2017, an Air Quality Consultants report suggested Bristol’s air pollution may cause up to 300 early deaths each year; on a national scale, the British Medical Journal estimates air pollution may cause up to 36,000 deaths each year.

A greener city

The push for clean air in and around the city has been hampered by public transport issues, forcing many would-be train and bus passengers to use cars instead, as reported by the Bristol Post. Meanwhile, Cycling Weekly has drawn attention to the hazards on Bristol cycle paths, for example: ‘the unclear road markings and dropped curbs throw cyclists, pedestrians and cars into direct conflict, almost by design’.

But what is being done to encourage greener transport? Bristol City Council hopes to reduce emissions from ‘idling’ cars – stationery cars with their engines running – by introducing ‘no idling’ pilot zones in four areas where people are most vulnerable to respiratory problems, such as near schools, care homes, hospitals, or the busiest roads. On the trains, Network Rail’s recent improvement works have increased the number of lines at Bristol Temple Meads from two to four, keeping local and intercity services on different lines to reduce delays.

As for those taking the bus, the Metrobus scheme (though struck by problems with ticketing systems, roadworks, guide rails and growing costs) looks to add seven more routes from the city to North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. With the introduction of the M1 Metrobus route in January 2019, powered by biogas, some car users may be tempted back to the bus, but city congestion remains a problem for everyone on the road.

Clean Air Zone options

In March, Bristol City Council considered the five types of Clean Air Zone it could implement – this isn’t the same as a Low Emission Zone, but goes beyond it with further measures to improve pollution levels, and follows a Clean Air Zone framework set by Defra and the Department for Transport.

A Mayoral Air Quality Working Group has since studied the best ways to tackle air pollution and benefit transport and healthcare. The council must choose from the five different plans by 31 December 2018, and would aim to be compliant by 2023:

1. Non-Charging Clean Air Zone with 17 complementary interventions.

2. Charging Clean Air Zone (Medium size, Class C – all vehicles except cars) with 12 complementary interventions.

3. Charging Clean Air Zone (Medium size, Class D – all vehicles) with 12 complementary interventions.

4. Charging Clean Air Zone (Small size, Class C – all vehicles except cars) with 12 complementary interventions.

5. Charging Clean Air Zone (Small size, Class D – all vehicles) with 12 complementary interventions.

Options 2-5 include adding charges to enter or drive in a Clean Air Zone if your vehicle doesn’t meet the class specification. All options would involve buses and taxis meeting Clean Air Zone standards, as well as cars and vans, and would promote ULEVs (Ultra Low Emission Vehicles, such as electric cars) as a greener alternative.

The ‘complementary interventions’ would include improving cycle paths and banning diesel cars from certain parts of the city. Zones would be monitored using number plate recognition to highlight which vehicles should be charged, though the government hasn’t announced how fees would be paid.

Nottingham and Birmingham are just two of the cities to announce their Clean Air Zone proposals, whilst Bath has delayed its decision after an unprecedented response from local residents.


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