Bristol is on track to be the first UK city centre to ban diesel vehicles in a bid to tackle air pollution.
Marvin Rees said the plans, approved by cabinet members on Tuesday, will bring NO2 levels to legal limits in the shortest time possible.
If implemented unchanged, the measures will see all private diesel vehicles banned from an area of the city centre from 7am to 3pm, seven days a week, from March 2021.
There will also be a wider clean air zone that non-compliant buses, taxis, HGVs and LGVs will be charged to enter.
The mayor stressed the council has “a moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe” as he admitted there may be unintended negative consequences of fulfilling what is a “very difficult piece of work”.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Geoff Gollop, chair of the council’s overview and scrutiny board, said while the cross-party group did not want to delay the “vital policy”, they did have some significant areas of concern.
Some of these concerns include access to the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, which sit in the diesel ban area, the displacement effect on air quality standards on roads outside of the clean air zone, and impact on lower-income households.
Gollop also criticised the tight deadline in which scrutiny “effectively had 36 hours to absorb over 1,000 pages”.
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A representative from the SS Great Britain spoke out about the possible negative implication for one of the city’s biggest attractions, which sits within the diesel ban area and currently sees around 60 per cent of its visitors arrive by car.
Anthony Negus, a Lib Dem councillor for Cotham, said the lack of mitigation for potentially negative impact of the plans is a “major flaw” in the cabinet report.
Eleanor Combley, leader of the Green group, argued the plans are a missed opportunity to impose bold and lasting change in the city, rather than doing all that is required to meet legal requirements.
Speaking after the meeting, she said: “The plan is better than nothing, but there is so much more we could do which would clean up our dirty air, tackling public health, economic inclusion and climate change at the same time.”
The hybrid option being put forward would see a clean air zone, which will charge all non-compliant buses, taxis, HGVs and LGVs, but not private vehicles. Costs to taxis and private hire vehicles would be £9 per day, while coaches, buses and HGVs would be charged £100 per day.
The intention is to enforce the smaller private diesel vehicle ban area through penalty notices. The charges are yet to be decided, but council officers have worked on a model of £60 if paid within 14 days or £120 after this period.
Jude English, a Green councillor for Ashley ward, raised the question of how the council will ensure it doesn’t implement a policy whereby the rich who can afford it will just pay the fine rather than comply.
Explaining how the council arrived at its preferred option, Rees said: “We have two options, all others have been discounted because they will not bring us to compliance in time. It’s CAZ C, or CAZ D, where we charge all cars.
“We have taken care to delivery air quality in the quickest possible time, but we’ve taken care of people on lowest incomes.”
Noting the concerns raised by the scrutiny board, the mayor also called for central government to invest in improving air quality, saying he asked Michael Gove for £1.5billion for a clean air zone and scrappage costs, but was declined.
“If government are serious about rolling down responsibility to local government, they have to follow it with real money,” said Rees.
The outline business case will go to the government on Wednesday, November 6. Bristol City Council has missed three government-imposed deadlines in putting forward its plans. Rees stressed this has not affected the implementation date of March 2021.
The final plans are due to be submitted to government in February 2020. It is anticipated the proposed measures would reduce the city’s NO2 levels to within the legal limit by 2025.