8 months on from a successful Green-led City Council motion on air quality (passed with all party support), Green councillors today welcomed the Mayor’s report back on the council’s progress towards a Clean Air Zone for Bristol, which would seek to improve air quality in the city, currently among the most polluted of UK cities outside London. Since the council session last November, the council has set up a Mayoral Air Quality Working Group, which has secured government funding and started working on a feasibility study to explore different types of Clean Air Zones. Additionally the council has also secured government funding to retrofit polluting buses and provide electric vehicle infrastructure.
Green Cabinet member and Chair of the working group Fi Hance, said: “I’m glad the work is underway now and pleased the council is taking everyone’s concerns seriously. It’s important to get this right so we are using the input of a wide variety of experts to ensure the best outcome for Bristolians.”
Air quality is increasingly flagged as an urgent health issue as research emerges on its harmful consequences. Last year the Royal College of Physicians warned that air pollution, measured as the concentration of fine particulate matter (called PM2.5) in the air, contributes to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes and obesity, lower IQ among children, and an average decrease in life expectancy of 9-11 years for an increase in PM2.5 of 10 micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic metre.
Research commissioned by the Council and published in February this year found that around 300 deaths in the City each year can be attributed to air pollution from PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide – about 8.5% (or 1 in 12) of deaths in Bristol overall. Impacts are highest in some of the City’s most deprived areas – in Lawrence Hill and Central wards, over 10% of deaths are attributable to poor air quality.
At the end of the month the government is expected to publish its updated air quality plans which will spell out the powers available to cities like Bristol in introducing Clean Air Zones. Green leader Councillor Eleanor Combley said: “We know that deprived communities are much more affected by air pollution than affluent areas – it is an equality issue as well as a danger to the environment and public health. We applaud the formation of the Mayoral Air Quality Working Group in response to all party support for action. We’ll be looking forward to its findings eagerly, and are keen to support decisive action that will reverse this blight on people’s health and lives in the city. Nothing should be ruled out at this stage – in particular it is likely that in order to work properly Clean Air Zones will need to introduce charging for all older diesel vehicles including cars. Bristol must deal with this issue with the urgency it demands as a genuine public health crisis.”