A driver living north of the river but working in South Bristol has raised concerns that the Clean Air Zone will “cut the city in two”. The scheme will be launching on November 28 – over a year late. Bristol City Council is legally required to introduce measures to cut harmful air pollution from vehicles driving in the city centre.
Driver Ken Thomas questioned the decision-making which has seen the dual carriageway over the Cumberland Basin between Hotwells and Ashton Gate included in the Clean Air Zone, despite it ‘being nowhere near the city centre’.
Mr Thomas is one of thousands of people who live north of the river but work in the industrial estates of South Bristol. He drives a W-reg Audi from Southmead to work at Specialised Process Solutions on the South Liberty Lane industrial estate in Ashton Vale, crossing the Cumberland Basin and heading down Winterstoke Road every day.
His route takes him down Bridge Valley Road, along the Portway and over the Plimsoll Bridge, but from next month he’ll face the CAZ charge daily. “The alternatives would be to pay the toll and go over the Clifton Suspension Bridge and down past Ashton Court, or to go all the way out to Avonmouth and back in from Gordano. Either one will mean more fuel used, more time and more expense,” he said.
“Neither mine nor my wife’s car are compliant with the CAZ, and while I get the reasons why they are bringing this in, there are no good options for me. I’ve looked into getting the support to change vehicles to a newer one which would not have to pay, but it’s only for people who earn below a certain level. With everything else that’s going on, I can’t afford to get a new car, but I don’t qualify for the help to do it, so I’m stuck.
“I could get the bus, but it’s a hell of a trek on the bus from Southmead to Ashton Vale, it goes all the way round the city and will take hours. I just don’t understand the rationale behind including the Cumberland Basin in the CAZ area.
“They could have it on the Hotwell Road into towards the city centre, but they are penalising drivers for driving around the edge of the city, not into the city centre. It’s not for the clean air, it’s just to raise extra money,” he added.
Mr Thomas’ daughter also lives in Inns Court in South Bristol, so visiting her will mean a £9 charge each time. “Including the Cumberland Basin effectively cuts the city in two.
“A lot of people come from the north side of the city to get to the airport, for instance, and for the people in South Bristol, they can’t get anywhere else now without paying. How can that be justified, they are basically robbing people, and I don’t think the mayor really understands the implications of this for South Bristol,” he added.
Tony Bull, from Whitchurch, said he is in favour of the scheme but that he doesn’t think it should include Cumberland Basin and the Portway. “We are south of the river so we are more cut off and then there is all the roadworks at the moment,” he said. “I think the centre of Bristol is derelict and I do not like going into town anymore. With M&S and Debenhams gone, it is not the same.”
The 79-year-old – who owns a hybrid car – said they normally use the Long Ashton Park and Ride if they go to the city centre, which he described as lovely as it encourages people not to take their cars. “I think it will make a difference but who knows exactly how much,” he continued. A lot of people have said they will just go round to avoid it.
“My next door neighbour will be affected by it, but he rarely goes into town and he says he will pay it.” A South Bristol resident who didn’t wish to be named said her car won’t attract the charge but that she normally gets the bus into town anyway.
“There is a lot of smoky cars,” she said. “Pollution is a big problem and anything that can be done to improve it is a good thing. You have to think about the kids.”
Gill, from Bishopsworth, said the CAZ will be pain for a lot of people but that they will be ok as they have a newer car. She said that her sister was going to be affected by the charge and has decided to buy a new car.
“She was not happy about it,” she continued. “I think it [the CAZ] is about money. If you pay, you can go through the city centre so it is not about emissions. I don’t think the scheme is fair on anyone and I do not think it will make a difference to air quality either. They need to make it easier for people to use buses by making them more regular. They often do not show up which leaves people with no option but to use their cars.”
Heather Down, from Headley Park said they decided to buy an electric car as they knew the Clean Air Zone was about to launch. However, the resident also said she thinks the scheme is about making money as her understanding is that the CAZ fees in Bristol are higher than elsewhere while being more restrictive in terms of vehicles allowed.
Ms Down said that they scrapped a van at work this week as, not being complaint, it was not worth getting it repaired. “Because of the area covered, it seems to me it will just cause more problems,” she said. “It isn’t just central Bristol. It does not seem logical to me as people will just drive round it. I do not think it will make a difference to air quality as, with all the roadworks that are going on, you will be sat in traffic anyway. I do not think it is a good idea.”
When the CAZ area was finalised, opposition councillors pointed out the knock-on implications of including the river crossing between Hotwells and Ashton Gate in the chargeable zone.
For drivers from north of the river, the CAZ area charging points begin on Bridge Valley Road and the A4 Portway heading to the Plimsoll Bridge, and for drivers from South Bristol heading across the river, the CAZ starts on the northbound slip roads onto Brunel Way from Winterstoke Road and from Clanage Road, as well as including all of the A370 Coronation Road along the south bank of the New Cut River Avon.
The only options for drivers from South Bristol heading to the rest of the city and the motorway network to avoid the CAZ zone is to go east all the way to the St Phillips Causeway between Brislington and Easton – all the other crossings from there are within the CAZ.
Opposition councillors pointed out that the A4 Portway and the A370 road are the diversion routes for motorway traffic when the M5 is closed over the Avonmouth Bridge.
But at the time, the councillors backing the scheme said Brunel Way and the crossing of the river there needed to be included in the CAZ project to make the entire scheme have enough of an impact on drivers all over the city – without including it, not enough drivers would change their vehicles or their travel choices to make the entire scheme worthwhile. Removing the Portway from the zone would mean it would take a year longer to achieve this, taking the compliance date from 2023 to 2024, councillors said at the time.
City mayor Marvin Rees said in March 2021: “Taking the Portway out, it’s not just about what it does to traffic flow on the Portway, it’s the role the Portway plays in encouraging behaviour change and the change of vehicles within the overall city fleet, both private vehicles and commercial vehicles, and that’s part of what the modelling takes into account.”
Bristol City Council was approached for comment.