Your say / Clean Air Zone

‘Bristol’s diesel ban can only be seen as a first step’

By jon usher, Thursday Nov 7, 2019

Some 300 people die prematurely every year in Bristol as a result of poor air quality. 300 people. That’s a huge and quite terrifying figure. And that is why I – and Sustrans – welcome Bristol City Council’s move to ban private diesel cars in the inner city.

However, when considering the scale of the problems we face, this ban can be seen only as a first step in our journey to clean air, and absolutely not as the complete package.


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A ban on diesel cars can only go so far in improving air quality in the city. A ban like this is aimed at reducing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions – an important element of the solution to our toxic air crisis.

The diesel ban area (pink, centre) and charging zone (bounded by pink dotted line) proposed by Bristol City Council under its Clean Air Zone plan. Source: Bristol City Council

However, it will do very little to address the other big air quality problem we face: particulate matter. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), shows that 47 towns and cities across the country – Bristol included – match or exceed the WHO limit of 10 micrograms of fine particle emissions (PM2.5) per cubic metre.

We don’t yet know what the full impacts of particulate matter will be. But recent studies have linked PM2.5 to dementia, and show that small particles can cross the placenta from a mother’s bloodstream into that of an unborn child.

This means that many children in Bristol will have been exposed to our toxic air even before they were born.

As experts estimate that by 2030, 90 per cent of harmful PM2.5 emissions will be caused by microscopic particles eroding from tyres and brakes as they age, it’s clear that this ‘diesel ban’ is not the whole answer.

So, while I applaud the mayor for taking this brave first step, what we need now is a thorough car reduction plan for the whole city. And this plan must include an explicit car reduction target.

Car reduction is necessary because simply ‘greening’ vehicles will not have the positive impact the city needs to be able to meet WHO targets for particulates. Nor will changing the propulsion technology used reduce the congestion or road danger that motor vehicles create on our streets.

We need to do everything we can to shift people away from driving and towards choosing healthy, clean alternatives, such as walking and cycling for shorter journeys.

This needs to be a priority for both Bristol City Council and for the incoming central government. No matter what party political candidates stand for, they need to take a stand and address this issue. 300 people dying prematurely in Bristol each year cannot remain the status quo.

Jon Usher says we need to do all we can to encourage people to walk and cycle

Jon Usher is head of partnerships south at Sustrans

Read more: Bristol’s clean air plans approved


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