After it emerged that the two air quality options proposed by Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees would not reach the bare legal minimum until as late as 2029, Green councillors have called on residents to respond ‘none of the above’ to the council’s clean air consultation, and demanded the Mayor consider new ideas to improve air quality as fast as possible, as well as longer term changes such as a congestion charge and segregated bike lanes.
In 2016 Bristol’s Green councillors passed a motion at a council meeting that demanded a Clean Air Zone for the city. After repeatedly missing deadlines set by the national government which Greens warned could expose Bristol Council to legal challenge, Bristol’s Labour Mayor produced two options for public consultation at a Cabinet meeting on June 18. However, the evidence on the efficacy of the Mayor’s options was not released until 23 July, more than three weeks after the consultation was launched. The timescales produced by the Council showed that under Marvin Rees’ favoured options air quality would not reach legal limits until 2028 or 2029.
Poor air quality in Bristol is responsible for around 300 early deaths per year. The impact on people’s health is highest in some of the poorest wards in the City, where rates of car ownership are also low. For example, according to a Council report, as much as 10% of deaths in Lawrence Hill are attributable to air pollution.
Green Councillors said the timescales were unacceptable and said they would not be supporting either of the proposed options in the Council’s consultation, which closes on Monday 12 August. They called on the Mayor to urgently bring forward new proposals to improve air quality as fast as possible, and introduce measures to reduce private car use in the city centre, such as a congestion charge for out of town commuters which they proposed at the Council’s budget meeting in February.
Fi Hance, Green councillor and former Cabinet Member said:
“It’s now been 1000 days since the Council passed a Green motion to deal with air pollution in Bristol and the Labour administration has run up against the latest of multiple missed deadlines. Asking Bristolians to wait as long as a decade to scrape by the bare minimum air quality standards is simply not good enough when toxic air causes 300 early deaths per year in this city. Instead of a false choice between two dubious options, rushed through at the last minute without evidence to support them, we urgently need new, tougher plans to clean up our air faster. The Labour Mayor’s failure to deliver clean, breathable air and treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves is hurting some of the poorest people in the city the most. Just as Bristolians responded ‘none of the above’ to the Council’s consultation on which libraries to close, my response to the Council’s clean air consultation is that neither option is good enough – we have to do more.”
Councillor Hance added:
“But we also need more than a short term fix that achieves the legal minimum. Private cars are responsible for the majority of air pollution in Bristol, and as well as nitrogen dioxide cars produce harmful particulates that aren’t accounted for in the Council’s plans. We have to face up to the fact that any policy that doesn’t reduce private car use in the city centre is just tinkering around the edges. As well as tough clean air measures as soon as possible, we also need to make big improvements to walking and cycling in Bristol. Places that have done this, like Waltham Forest in London, are already seeing improvements in air quality and life expectancy. To help people out of their cars we also need to overhaul public transport – a congestion charge for out-of-town commuters coming into Bristol as proposed by Greens would reduce traffic, improve bus journey times, and give us millions to spend on improvements to our bus network.”
The Council’s Clean Air consultation can be found here and closes on Monday 12 August.