Bristol is set to become the first UK city to introduce a blanket ban on privately-owned diesel vehicles.
This week Bristol City Council approved wide-reaching proposals for a daytime ban on diesel vehicles in the city centre along with a less-stringent clean air zone in other parts of the city.
The move is an effort to bring down the city’s illegal levels of air pollution and will see all privately owned vehicles barred from a central area of the city while commercial vehicle owners will have to pay to access the zone.
Bristol is one of a number of UK cities where levels of nitrous oxide emissions exceed legal limits and the city has twice missed deadlines to produce plans for a clean air zone.
Its mayor, Marvin Rees said the city had a “moral, ecological and legal duty” to cut pollution. However, the broad scope of the ban and its implications for drivers have been questioned.
The ban will see privately-owned diesel vehicles prohibited from entering a central ban zone between 7am and 3pm with drivers fined if they stray into it. The size of the fine is yet to be determined but will be enforced by an automatic number plate recognition similar to that used to enforce London’s ULEZ and congestion charge.
Taxis will be charged £9 per day for access to the zone, with larger vans, lorries and buses incurring a £100 a day charge.
The scheme is due to come into force by March 2021 but requires government approval before it can be introduced.
Confusion and inconsistency
Bristol’s outright ban goes further than London’s ULEZ and while its potential to cut pollution has been welcomed concerns have been raised around its impact on motorists and businesses, and the council has been criticised for failing to distinguish between clean modern diesels and more polluting older models.
Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said: “We recognise that efforts must be made to clean up the city’s air but as things stand, the impact of the proposals on people who currently drive diesel vehicles would be unprecedented. Major routes into, out of, and even around the city would become out of bounds, with diesel vehicles forced onto other roads, which risks causing congestion problems where they don’t exist at the moment.
“Bristol has bold plans to improve its public transport system, but major improvements are still many years from becoming a reality. In the meantime, many drivers are faced with having to use their car for journeys in and around the city simply because there is no affordable, reliable alternatives. This would become more difficult under these plans.
“Then there are other practical considerations. Some drivers of diesel cars who are locked into finance packages may face a significant penalty to exit their contract early. There will also be drivers of older vehicles who are faced with having to give up their vehicles and switch to something different – which could be extremely costly.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders warned: “This proposed blanket ban, which goes against government’s guidelines, fails to distinguish between modern vehicles and decades-old technologies and will only cause confusion for drivers while also undermining efforts to boost air quality.”
Observers have also warned that the ban could affect low-income families who cannot afford to replace older vehicles the hardest.
On Twitter, AA president Edmund King attacked the inconsistent approach to low-emission zones (LEZ). He said: “[The] lack of consistent policies across the country is crazy. Euro 6 diesels allowed in some LEZs but banned from others. It is 10 per cent gross polluters cause 50 per cent problems and most are HGVs, coaches rather than new diesel cars.”
The latest Euro 6d emissions standards requires diesels to have far lower NOx emissions than previously and testing has found that many emit far lower levels than even the latest limits allow.