Bristol Clean Air Zone could be scrapped in ‘three to four years’ if pollution levels fall

Bristol's Clean Air Zone could be scrapped within the next four years. Credit: BPM Media

The Clean Air Zone in Bristol could be scrapped “in three to four years” if air pollution falls.

Modelling by Bristol City Council shows air quality could improve enough by then to end restrictions on vehicles.

The scheme was launched just over a year ago after the government said the council had to reduce air pollution to within legal limits.

If pollutant levels fall below those limits, then the Clean Air Zone could be abandoned.

This would mean drivers of older diesel cars and other non-compliant vehicles would be allowed to drive through the centre of Bristol without paying a charge or a fine.

An update on the scheme was given to the resources scrutiny commission on Friday, December 8.

John Smith, executive director of growth and regeneration, said: “The timeframe for the Clean Air Zone is driven by the legal compliance issue, so that determines how long it lasts.

"There’s not an immediate switch off if we reach compliance, because there’s a further period of testing. But we’re assuming another three to four years.”

Nitrogen dioxide is one of the most harmful pollutants and is largely caused by road traffic. Under current law, annual average concentrations cannot exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

The law could be tightened up and limits reduced further, meaning if “the goalposts are changed” then the Clean Air Zone would have to remain in Bristol for longer.

It’s unclear how much pollution has fallen since the Clean Air Zone was launched in November last year. Full details of its effect on air quality, as well as how much drivers have paid the council, are expected to be published next month.

An updated report was due this month, but was delayed by the analysis of air quality taking longer than expected. Council bosses believe that publishing figures on how much income they have received, ahead of this time, would be “misleading.”

Deputy mayor Craig Cheney said: “The Clean Air Zone is a public health intervention and it provides data at the end of 12 months. Giving financial income in the meantime is a misleading figure. We’ve been keen to bring, for the sake of public discourse, the two together at the same time.”

Mr Smith added: “It was certainly reported and we did say it was going to be in December, so apologies for that. We had hoped we would be able to take the data and analyse it more quickly than we are.”

Credit: Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service