Drivers to be charged to enter city centre Clean Air Zone

Motorists will be charged after all to enter a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the city centre, mayor Marvin Rees has revealed.

Bristol City Council had wanted to avoid forcing drivers of polluting vehicles to pay to enter a CAZ.

It hoped the road changes introduced during the pandemic to help social distancing and encourage walking and cycling would satisfy the Government that improvements in air quality over the last few months were enough to avoid charges.

But Bristol’s mayor revealed during a Facebook Live on Wednesday night (January 13) that it will have to introduce a zone covering a small area of central Bristol where older, more polluting commercial vehicles and polluting private cars would pay to drive, referred to as a ‘small CAZ D’.

It was one of two options the council had been required by government deadlines to consult on for a Clean Air Zone, the other being a ‘medium CAZ C’ which would be a larger charging zone with a fee imposed on polluting commercial vehicles but not private cars.

It is currently unclear how much drivers would be charged to enter the zone.

Whitehall has ordered the local authority to find the fastest way to get Bristol’s air pollution to within legal limits. Mr Rees said on Wednesday that the council’s full business case would go to City Hall cabinet next month before formal submission to government.

He said: “The evidence that has come through the modelling suggests we are going to be implementing a small area CAZ D.

“This is in line with our moral responsibility to deliver clean air in the shortest possible time but also that’s going to be tested legally because the legal requirement is to get to compliance in the shortest possible time.

“A small area CAZ D seems to be the one coming out of the modelling that says it will provide that route.”

drivers to be charged to enter city centre clean air zone - Drivers to be charged to enter city centre Clean Air Zone
Small CAZ D – Older more polluting commercial vehicles and polluting private cars would pay to drive into a Clean Air Zone covering a small area of central Bristol

The mayor said there were, however, a number of qualifications to this.

He said: “We have always said a charging zone is a blunt instrument.

“We want to work with behaviour change.

“We are concerned about the potential unintended consequences of charging on household and business income particularly at this time of financial challenge for so many.

“So what we are going to do is, as well as taking action to deliver that compliance, we will be looking at how we can support people through that transition.

“This will hit the pockets of households and businesses within Bristol.”

Mr Rees said clean air was not just about cars and that house-building was an important element.

drivers to be charged to enter city centre clean air zone 1 - Drivers to be charged to enter city centre Clean Air Zone
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees during a Facebook Live on January 13
(Image: Marvin Rees/Facebook/Zoom)

“The kind of homes we build and where we build will be the biggest determinants of our impact on the planet,” he said.

“We are trying to build homes centrally more densely without car parking spaces.

“Building in the centre and more densely means we are building in active travel areas within walking and cycling distance of retail, employment and entertainment.

“As the city continues to grow – it will grow by about 96,000 people in the next 25 years – it’s really important we service that growth with homes in a way that does not destroy the planet.

“It’s not just about cars, it’s about making it possible to live without cars and not bringing additional pressure to our roads.”

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In September the mayor issued a “call to action” to residents to use public transport and active travel in Bristol or face being charged to drive their cars.

But it seems that appeal has not sustained the improvements to air quality enough to avoid the fees.

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The small CAZ D would occupy a boot-shaped area formerly set aside for the council’s proposed diesel ban, which was rejected by the Government in 2019.

A clean air scheme must be in place by October and must provide the fastest route to compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits, whether that is by charging or not charging motorists.

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