AirQualityAir pollution and clean air is big news right now. But what are our politicians and local authorities doing to clean up our air?

We'll restrict our coverage of this question here to a quick summary of responses from Government, Bristol City Council and other cities.

UK Government

The national Joint Parliamentary Committee report, “Improving Air Quality”, called on the government to take a more holistic approach (eg considering carbon emissions alongside NO2/particulate pollution), and a more urgent approach to improving air quality. The article here provides some further details.

In the meantime, the government’s approach is compliance-led: do the minimum necessary to get NO2 emissions within EU limits, and forced to do more by ClientEarth legal action which showed the government was not doing enough or not doing it quickly enough. It has delegated the task to local authorities, most of whom also take a compliance-led approach.

This is about NOx pollution, not particulate pollution. The medics seem more worried about particulate pollution. The medical research concludes that there is no safe level of air pollution. WHO limits are lower than UK limits.

Bristol City Council

The Cabinet of Bristol City Council on 6th March approved five options for a Bristol Clean Air Plan for further investigation until next September, when a preferred option will be chosen for even more detailed analysis. The detail about this is contained in a Strategic Outline Case. Scroll down this detailed Council web page for details.

Section 3.7 of the Strategic Outline Case describes the options. Four options include a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ). Only two of these options would be kept – one with a small zone and one a medium zone. The other option is a package of 16 short-listed 'other measures' - see 3.7.2. These measures are non-charging. They include some access restrictions/prohibitions. They tend to be targeted on certain types of vehicles, and certain pollution hotspot locations.

The Government has ruled out Euro 6 diesel cars from being included in a charging CAZ even though real-world tests show them to continue to be high-polluting.

Some measures have been ruled out because they cannot be delivered quickly enough for the government’s timetable to meet compliance - see Annex A of the SOC. For instance, a cross-city charging Clean Air Zone, restricting traffic movements in city centre, a Workplace Parking Levy.

The initial assessment is that all five options meet the Government's objective of getting below statutory air quality limits by 2021 (ie implementing the measures before 2021). If that assessment continues to hold, the decision will be based on secondary factors. A list of secondary factors has been set, and a weighted score is derived for each option - see 3.3.3.

The scores do not vary much between the options, and the decision appears finely balanced - see 7.1.1. It seems to us that there is a risk that the non-charging-CAZ option will be adopted, because that is politically the easiest. In which case air quality would continue to be a 'below the surface' issue. 

The consultation will be as follows:-

  • February to September 2018: engagement with key audiences and stakeholders
  • towards the end of 2018: formal consultation on the preferred proposal (ie after the options have been narrowed down to one preferred option in September).

Please see "Impact of the proposed Clean Air Zone on Bishopston" for our assessment of local impact.

Other Cities 

London already has a Clean Air Zone that charges cars entering the inner-city area.

There are five local authorities that are likely to declare their intentions before Bristol does, because they were on the first government list of cities required to take action. So far Leeds and Birmingham are proposing zones that do not charge cars. Derby is trying to avoid a charging Clean Air Zone of any sort. From what we can tell, Nottingham and Southampton have yet to declare.

Bath is proposing a Clean Air Zone, which may or may not include cars. Oxford has the most radical approach: it is proposing a Zero Emission Zone in the city centre, ie banning diesel and petrol vehicles, starting with some vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020, and moving to all vehicle types across the whole city centre in 2035.

Some final thoughts and links

  • A good critique of charging Clean Air Zones can be found here. Their effect may be that people buy newer diesel cars, and find routes to circumvent the charging zone. Which doesn’t address the real problem that there is too much motor traffic in city centres, and active travel needs to be encouraged.
  • Monitoring air quality outside schools: Bristol has introduced air quality sensors outside all schools.
  • Low-emission buses: Bristol is getting a grant for more low-emission buses. See here. Electric buses would be better.
  • Government Clean Air Fund: The government (DEFRA) has made available a £220m Clean Air Fund to local authorities. Some of the money is for “other measures”, for instance bus priority measures, cycle routes, and traffic management systems. See here.
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