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Bristol threatened with legal action over lack of NOx plan

City centre traffic speed

The Government has threatened Bristol City Council with legal action after it failed to submit final air quality plans.

The local authority received a ministerial direction on July 27, 2017, requiring it to provide a final plan to deliver compliance with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NOx) in the shortest possible time by December 31, 2018.

In a letter to the Mayor of Bristol City Council, Marvin Rees, environment minister Therese Coffey said that the Joint Defra/DfT Air Quality Unit (JAQU) had worked closely with the local authority, giving it the necessary support and funding to ensure it could meet the deadlines to achieve compliance as soon as possible.

She continued: “I am alarmed to hear that Bristol City Council have stated they will not provide your final plan, in the form of an outline business case, until summer 2019, and would not share documents with JAQU before this date.

“This means you have unlawfully failed to comply with the direction, and I am absolutely astonished at your delay in improving air quality for the people of Bristol as quickly as possible.”

Drawing on the project plan provided by officials, Coffey said she required that a final plan is provided by February 21, that justifies the proposed preferred scheme to deliver compliance based on full and complete analyses including air quality, transport, and economic modelling, as well as setting out the procurement, implementation route and affordability of the scheme.

Following acceptance of the final plan, Coffey explained that the council needed to ensure implementation of the required measures starts by the end of 2019 and compliance is delivered in the shortest possible time.

She added that all necessary public consultation on the preferred scheme should start by March 29, and a full business case that sets out detailed proposals for the scheme, and sets out the commercial and contractual arrangements, affordability, and management arrangements to ensure successful delivery of the scheme can start by, are completed by September 27.

“I should like to make clear that any delay or non-compliance with these deadlines will result in my being forced to consider legal action against Bristol City Council, which may include issuing proceedings without further notice,” continued Coffey.

Bristol city council has outlined five potential options for the establishment of a clean air zone (CAZ) within the city.

The options include a small or medium-sized Class C or Class D charging CAZ in the centre of the city, which could levy a charge for the use of buses and coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles, heavy and lights goods vehicles, and potentially also private cars.

Current initiatives in the city to improve air quality include, working with bus operators to clean up the bus fleet. 

The city was recently awarded £2.2 million for cleaning up buses in the regional fleet. The council says that it has also ensured its own fleet of vehicles is making less of an impact on air quality, by using electric pool cars, some electric vans, some other ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) and providing training for drivers.

It is also working with providers to increase the number of EV charge points.

A Bristol City Council spokesman said the local authority was "fully committed" to tackling air quality in Bristol. He explained: "We are currently carrying out technical modelling work to explore fully all possible options.

"We’ve been clear with JAQU that we will take the proposals forward and we are working to ensure that the potential solutions have the highest possible chance of success. We are therefore looking at the bigger picture including measures to cut congestion and improve public transport, infrastructure and traffic management.

“Bristol is an inclusive city and we are determined that any proposed solutions do not have a negative impact on people on low incomes. Each authority has different challenges and priorities and we are working to identify a solution specific to Bristol.

"We already have a number of initiatives and sustainable transport plans being developed so we need to make sure one policy doesn’t affect the whole framework. We look forward to working with government to achieve our shared goals.”

For more on clean air zones and to view our interactive map showing towns and cities considering schemes, click here.

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