For the second time this year, Defra minister Therese Coffey has written to Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees, threatening the local authority with legal action and has given a deadline of September to submit a satisfactory plan to tackle air pollution.
The city council is currently consulting on two options to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in Bristol — a Class C Clean Air Zone (CAZ) and an eight-hour diesel ban in part of the city centre.
However, according to the council’s own technical data, Bristol would not reach compliance for NO2 for another decade under this type of CAZ, which doesn’t charge private cars.
In a letter dated July 23 but published last week, Dr Coffey says if the council concludes that either of these two measures will not improve air quality ‘in the shortest possible time’ then Defra will direct the council to implement a Class D CAZ, which would charge private cars to enter the zone.
When AirQualityNews met Mr Rees in June he said any measures to tackle air pollution must not negatively impact Bristol’s poorest communities.
Dr Coffey has given the council until September 30 to submit an outline business case to Defra on their clean air plan and December 23 to provide a full business case or the department may take legal action ‘without further notice.’
‘For the avoidance of doubt, I want to be very clear that your preferred option must deliver compliance in your local area in the shortest possible time, and have a robust evidence base to support it,’ wrote Dr Coffey in the letter.
After missing previous deadlines, Mr Rees has been involved in a public dispute with Dr Coffey who in January first threatened Bristol City Council with legal action. She said at the time, ‘I am absolutely astonished at your delay in improving air quality for the people of Bristol as quickly as possible.’
Responding to the letter Marvin Rees said: ‘The government’s direction is telling us to do things that we are already doing or planning to do, to the timescale that we had already set out.
‘A Clean Air Zone type D – which includes charging private cars as part of congestion charging – is not one of the options that we are consulting the public about.
‘This is because previous modelling work had not indicated that it would help us achieve better air quality sooner than the options we have presented.
‘We are very conscious of the potential impact of charging private cars. We have particular concerns about the impact on some of Bristol’s poorest people, but also on many other hard-working people who have been pushed even closer to the edge by years of austerity and disinvestment in public services by the government.
‘Any CAZ option which could be taken forward will have technical modelling done to test the social and economic impacts.’
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