Consultation on new Traffic Clean Air Zone options

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Closes 13 Dec 2020

Consultation on new ways to reduce air pollution in Bristol

Fresh opportunities to transform travel are being explored to clean up Bristol’s air quality in the shortest possible time.

Bristol City Council is looking at options to improve air quality in line with legal duties and a direction from government. We want an approach to improving air quality that does not compound the challenges already facing citizens and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Air pollution in Bristol

Air pollution has been a problem in Bristol and many UK cities for a long time. Air pollution is made up of gases and particles in the air which are harmful to people and other life. Bristol City Council has a moral and legal duty to ensure the city’s air quality meets legal limits of air pollution in the shortest possible time.

Read more about air pollution

Air pollution is harmful to people and other life. The higher the levels of pollution and the more time people spend in polluted air, the worse the effects on health can be. For some pollutants, there is no safe limit and exposure to even fairly low concentrations may be harmful. It is now known that exposure to air pollution can lead to heart disease, strokes, asthma, lung cancer, and damage to other internal organs.

The most concerning pollutants within Bristol are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and very small particulates. These pollutants are invisible. In the air quality directive, the European Union has set limits for NO2 to protect our health. The annual average of NO2 must not exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3)

Some local authorities, including Bristol, have been legally directed to reduce levels of NO2 as soon as possible to comply with these health-based standards. A major source of NO2 in cities is road traffic, particularly from diesel engines. This consultation is concerned with options to reduce the levels of NO2 from road traffic in the shortest possible time. Although the focus of this consultation is on NO2, our proposals would also reduce levels of harmful particulates by reducing the number of polluting vehicles which emit both NO2 and particulates.

Effects of COVID-19 on air quality

During 2020, the world around us has changed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This has led to some changes in lifestyle, work and travel behaviours, which has led to large improvements in air quality.

The council has also swiftly made some changes to roads in the city centre (known as ‘Street Space’ schemes), which have improved walking, cycling and bus journeys to help people get around safely. The changes will take time to adjust to, but it’s already shown we can adapt and do things differently if we want to live and work in a healthy environment.

New approaches to improving air quality

The council’s preferred approach is to encourage citizens and businesses to sustain the recent, less polluting travel behaviour that we have seen, and we plan to support this with some further improvements to roads around the city that will tackle routes with the worst pollution and make it easier to walk, cycle or use public transport. We are calling these ‘Fast Track measures’.

Read more about the recent ‘Street Space’ schemes and the planned ‘Fast Track’ measures

The Street Space schemes were put in rapidly as we emerged from lockdown, to help people get around safely. The changes were funded by emergency government funding called the Emergency Active Travel Fund - EATF. Examples of the Street Space schemes in the city centre are:

  • Cycle lanes and improvements for buses in specific pollution problem locations, including Park Row / Upper Maudlin Street / Marlborough Street and Lewins Mead / Haymarket;
  • Closure of Baldwin Street to through traffic and restrictions to traffic movements to create priority and space for buses and cycling;
  • Closure of Bristol Bridge and High Street to general traffic, with access for buses, taxis, motorcycles, cycles and pedestrians

The Street Space schemes are already in place and are not part of the proposals in this consultation.

The proposed Fast Track measures include the following (these are not yet in place):

  • Closure of Cumberland Road to inbound traffic to prioritise public transport. This is temporarily in place already while repair works to the river wall and Chocolate Path are ongoing. A permanent closure to inbound traffic is proposed as a Fast Track measure;
  • Using traffic signals to improve the flow of all traffic and enhance air quality in pollution hotspots;
  • A cycle scheme on Temple Way (proposal being considered);
  • Enhancements of the Street Space schemes where required to further support the CAZ scheme and improvements in air quality;
  • Additional air quality monitoring units to measure progress.

If the recent positive travel behaviours continue and Bristol can sustain improved air quality and less traffic in the city as we adapt to living with COVID-19, it could mean that proposed options to charge polluting vehicles are not needed. However, if people’s travel behaviours return to how they were before, traffic builds up and pollution increases again above legal limits, then we would need to bring in one of the charging zone options described in this consultation.

Why are we consulting?

While our preferred approach is to encourage less polluting travel behaviour supported by Fast Track measures, we must consider additional measures, in case these are needed for us to comply with our legal and moral duties to reduce pollution to within legal limits in the shortest possible time.

In 2019 we asked for your feedback on two options to lower air pollution in the city centre. The 2019 options were a clean air zone (a CAZ type C) in which the most polluting HGVs, buses, coaches, light goods vehicles (LGVs) and taxis (but not private cars) would be charged (2019 option 1) and a diesel car ban (2019 option 2). You can read about the 2019 options on the council’s Consultation and Engagement Hub.

Following the 2019 consultation, Cabinet decided in November 2019 to submit the Outline Business Case with a hybrid scheme- a combination of 2019 option 1 and 2019 option 2 - as the preferred option.

Since the November 2019 Cabinet decision, we have carried out further air quality modelling, as directed by Government, to model a small CAZ type D in which non-compliant (older, more polluting) private cars would be charged as well as non-compliant HGVs, buses, coaches, light goods vehicles (LGVs) and taxis. We have also taken into consideration the impacts of COVID-19 and opportunities for Fast Track measures to further reduce traffic pollution.

As a result, we have identified two new potential charging clean air zone (CAZ) options, which would involve charging the most polluting vehicles, including private cars, if they drive into central Bristol. Our work so far indicates that these new options for a charging CAZ could improve air quality at least as quickly as those put forward in 2019. The 2019 charging zone option (2019 option 1) forms part of one of the new options described below. The 2019 diesel car ban option (2019 option 2) is no longer being considered due to the potential impact a ban could have on citizens and businesses because of continued uncertainty around the enforcement powers, and the legal requirement to reach compliance in the shortest possible time.

In this survey, we are asking for your views on the new charging CAZ options. We must consult now – even though we don’t yet know if these additional options are needed - because we must comply with timescales set by the government to have plans in place to reduce pollution to within legal limits in the shortest possible time. (Reducing air pollution to legal levels is also known as ‘reaching compliance’. The date when all roads in the city will reach compliance is known as the ‘compliance date’.)

We will continue to monitor changes in traffic and air quality and our technical work is ongoing to estimate more precisely what the date of compliance would be for each of the charging CAZ options (should they be required). Following input from the consultation and modelling work, we will be best placed to put forward an option to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time with appropriate and sufficient mitigation measures in place to support those most impacted by the proposed option.

This consultation is your chance to tell us what you think about the new options we propose for improving air quality in Bristol. We also want to know if you would be prepared to change how you travel into central Bristol if this would mean there is no need for a charging clean air zone. Your views are important and will be considered by the Mayor and Cabinet as part of the Full Business Case approval process in early 2021.