Clean Air Zone could go if pollution falls, says Mayor

BRISTOL’S new Clean Air Zone could be scrapped if pollution falls below certain levels, according to the mayor, Marvin Rees.

The Clean Air Zone (CAZ) was brought in on Monday, November 28 after lengthy delays. The scheme sees drivers of particularly polluting vehicles charged to enter an area around the city centre, but some have suggested it could be expanded to a wider area in future.

Mr Rees said Bristol City Council was legally forced to introduce the CAZ after environmental campaigners Client Earth took legal action against the government for high levels of air pollution in many cities.

During a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, December 6, the mayor said: “I have been asked about the future of the CAZ recently, and asked if there’s going to be an expansion. The answer from me is certainly no. I’m not going to expand the CAZ to the whole city.

“As soon as it does deliver compliant air in the shortest possible time, it’s possible that it won’t be needed any more at all. But whatever future there is with the CAZ or any other measures to manage vehicles moving around the city, that would be up to any future commission.”

So far, about four in five vehicles entering the zone have been compliant and weren’t charged, the mayor said. 

Opposition to the new scheme has seen thousands petition to scrap the CAZ completely, with a legal challenge also being prepared.

Mr Rees said: “It’s important to recognise the purpose of the CAZ, which is about improving air quality through cleaner vehicles and behaviour change. It’s a public health intervention, not a transport intervention, in light of its relation to clean air.

“It didn’t just drop out of the air, it wasn’t thought up in a back room of the council — our air standards across the UK didn’t meet EU standards. Client Earth legally challenged the government over their lack of action.

“The government then rolled down responsibility to local government across the major cities with a legal requirement to have compliant air in the shortest possible time. We then entered a period of negotiation with the government, repeatedly making the points that Clean Air Zones are blunt instruments, could have negative consequences for some people, for households, businesses and our public sector partners such as the hospital.

“Now it has been launched, there are some concerns being raised by some quarters. I would say two things. The debate about the nature of CAZ was three years ago. For those groups that so vociferously advocated for CAZ in the first instance, it would be good to stay in the public debate about this. Some groups have been quite absent as the conversation has gone on.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service