Drivers to Bristol Airport ‘feel mugged’ by Clean Air Zone’s Portway ‘trap’

Drivers heading to Bristol Airport from outside of the city have said they ‘feel mugged’ after signs directing them to the airport led them off the M5 motorway and into Bristol’s new Clean Air Zone.

And Bristol Live can reveal, despite Bristol City Council asking for warning signs about the CAZ alongside the motorway signs for the airport, the Government itself said they were not needed.

Drivers heading to Bristol Airport from South Wales, Gloucestershire, the Midlands and from Wiltshire and the M4 are still being directed off the M5 at junction 18, the exit for Avonmouth, and then down the A4 Portway. It is only when those motorists are on the Portway and heading to Bristol that the first sign warning them they are approaching the Clean Air Zone appears.

Read next: Bristol Clean Air Zone could be scrapped says mayor Marvin Rees – if pollution levels fall

With very limited options to turn off the Portway or turn around, drivers then continue onto the Plimsoll Bridge and over the Cumberland Basin into South Bristol, where they are directed towards Bristol Airport on the A38.

One driver, Bill Martin, from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, said he felt ‘mugged’ by the lack of signage, after travelling to Bristol Airport to pick up passengers, and finding himself in the Clean Air Zone in a non-CAZ compliant vehicle on Sunday, December 4.

“I followed the signs for Bristol Airport as shown on the signage from the M5, travelling south along the portway and around the edge of Bristol,” he said. “This signed route makes no mention of the route channelling vehicles to go through the CAZ zone and hence a payment of £9 is required to use it. There is a perfectly acceptable route to the airport on the opposite side of the river, which goes via Ashton Gate and misses the zone,” he told Bristol Live.

“Surely if the objective is to reduce pollution in the zone, then the signage to the airport needs to change to avoid the zone. The objective here is to reduce pollution, isn’t it?

“I feel I have been mugged here as the signage is at fault as I had no intention of adding pollution to the Bristol zone when I was simply visiting Bristol Airport to pick up passengers and simply followed the signage route,” he added.

Mr Martin is not the only motorist to contact Bristol Live to point out the problem. “I followed the signage to Bristol Airport from Worcester. I knew nothing about the Clean Air Zone in Bristol, and as I went down the A4 along the river, saw the first signs warning that I was approaching it,” said one driver, who declined to be named.

“I assumed that, because I was going nowhere near Bristol city centre, and the route would take me right along the edge of the city, that the signs were for people driving into the city centre. It’s not as if you can turn off the Portway, you can’t turn right, the river’s there. It’s a massive trap, you’re directed off the motorway to Bristol Airport, following the signs, and then are warned about the Clean Air Zone after it’s too late to avoid it,” he added.

What do the authorities say?

Bristol Airport

Bristol Airport does have a page dedicated to advice to drivers travelling to the airport on its website. On that page, they have included a map of the Clean Air Zone and several links to the council’s website information about the zone and the fact that it extends as far west as the Cumberland Basin. The Airport’s own directions to drivers coming from the M4 and M5 from the north continue to direct drivers onto the A4 Portway.

Bristol City Council

When the Clean Air Zone was launched, the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees included specific reference to access to Bristol Airport in his social media comments on the day. “The A369 and Winterstoke Road also offer an easy way of accessing South Bristol and the airport without entering the zone,” the mayor said in his CAZ launch video. There are no signs on the A4 Portway, or on the M5 indicating this, or advising drivers of non-compliant vehicles to remain on the M5 and exit at junction 19 for Gordano, and travel on the North Somerset side of the River Avon instead, to avoid the Clean Air Zone.

Bristol City Council declined to comment on the situation, but did confirm that they asked National Highways and the Department for Transport to consider the signage on the M5 with specific regards to Bristol Airport, and ‘our request was declined’.

The Government

National Highways told Bristol Live the lack of CAZ signage on the M5 was a Department for Transport decision.

The Department for Transport did not comment directly on the issue, but did tell Bristol Live that the DfT has ‘not blocked the installation of signs directing drivers to Bristol’s Clean Air Zone’.

“The DfT and National Highways have jointly developed clear guidance on the appropriate use of signs in local areas. This advises against unnecessary sign clutter to ensure directions remain clear for drivers,” a spokesperson said. “In this case, Junction 18 of the M5 is several miles from the Clean Air Zone and signs are already appropriately placed on the A4 before the zone begins.

“Any changes to the number of signs on the strategic road network for Bristol’s Clean Air Zone will be a matter for the local authority to discuss jointly with National Highways. While air pollution across the country has reduced significantly since 2010, we know there is more to do. That is why we are investing £880 million to clean up transport and cut pollution,” they added.

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