Bristol’s ruling Labour administration have admitted that they are putting their latest clean air proposals out to consultation without fully understanding their impact.
The local authority has been ordered by the government to submit plans to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants in the city’s atmosphere as quickly as possible.
Bristol City Council has already missed two deadlines and risks a hefty financial penalty if it misses a third.
So it is starting a public consultation in just over a week’s time despite not having all of the evidence it would like around the effects of its proposals on pollutant levels and public health.
Mayor Marvin Rees told a packed cabinet meeting on June 18: “We are all bound by the government’s directive that we have to reach compliance in the shortest possible time.
“More details will come as we begin to do more detailed work.
“Our aim is to get going as quick as we can.”
The public will have six weeks from July 1 to comment on two options for reducing the city’s dangerously high nitrogen dioxide levels to legal limits.
The options – an eight-hour ban on diesel cars in the city centre, or a “medium sized” charging zone for all polluting vehicles except cars – were revealed by Bristol City Council last week.
But questions from campaigners and opposition councillors exposed gaps in the council’s understanding of the theoretical impact of their clean air proposals.
The council was unable to say how soon the required reductions in nitrogen dioxide levels would be achieved with each option, how many pollution-related deaths lives would be lost in the meantime, the effect on pollution in various parts of the city, and how much money a charging zone would generate and what it would be spent on.
It ran out of time to conduct the technical modelling work needed to supply the answers in time to start the consultation, the cabinet heard.
Some answers will be provided two weeks into the consultation while others, including information about health impacts, will not be available until later this year.
Mike Jackson, the council’s executive director of resources, acknowledged that beginning the consultation “before we have complete information” is a risk.
“We’ve been very open in the cabinet report that that is not ideal and is a risk,” he said.
“But, on balance, it is a lesser risk than waiting until all of the technical work is completed and therefore seeing the whole timetable slip to a degree that is probably unacceptable to government.”
The council is in danger of having to pay back £1.65million it has received from government to develop its proposals if it misses another deadline.
An estimated 300 Bristolians die each year as a result of atmospheric pollution.
Initial council analysis suggests its proposals to reduce the city’s nitrogen dioxide levels to within legal limits will not be successful until 2023/24 at the earliest.
Alan Morris from the Bristol Clean Air Alliance said: “It is does not seem acceptable to propose a plan that will take up to five years to deliver compliance.”
Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Mary Page called the consultation a “tick-box exercise” while Lib Dem councillor Gary Hopkins called it “a bit of a sham”.
Green mayoral hopeful Sandy Hore-Ruthven said the proposals would simply “tinker around the edges”.
Green Party councillors said the proposals should have been considered by a scrutiny committee before coming before cabinet.
The proposed eight-hour diesel car ban would see diesel cars banned from the city centre between 7am and 3pm.
The proposal for a “medium sized” charging zone for polluting buses, taxis, trucks and lorries would also include a bus lane on the M32, a diesel vehicle ban on the road past the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Bristol Children’s Hospital, and traffic interventions in the most polluting areas of Bristol.
Both options would be accompanied by a package of non-charging measures, such as HGV bans on highly polluted routes and bus priority measures, alongside a city-wide scrappage scheme and improvements to buses and taxis to ensure they are all within compliant emission standards.
The council has promised the government it will identify its “preferred option” and submit its outline plan business case by the end of September and its full business case in December.
It has already missed deadlines in March and at the end of last year.
The latest options were devised after the mayor rejected two previously shortlisted proposals because they disproportionately affected people on lower incomes.
It is Clean Air Day on June 20.