Bristol is set to become the first city in the UK to ban diesel vehicles in its city centre, in a bid to improve poor air quality. 

The ban, which was agreed by Bristol City Council this week, comes as cities throughout the UK - and beyond - take steps to tackle dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Explaining the ban, Marvin Rees, Bristol’s Mayor, said: “We have a moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe”.

How will the ban work?

Privately-owned diesel cars will be banned from parts of the city centre and Bristol’s harbour side area for eight hours each day, from 7am to 3pm. 

There will also be a wider Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which commercial diesel vehicles, such as buses, vans and lorries, will be charged to enter, unless they meet emissions standards.  

The ban will be enforced by using a number plate recognition system. Details of how much diesel cars will be fined if they stray into the central zone are yet to be revealed.

The proposals need government approval before they can come into force in 2021. 

Why is Bristol taking this radical step?

Bristol suffers from poor air quality, with high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM) in the air. In fact, air pollution has been estimated to cause up to 300 deaths in Bristol each year. 

As a result, the city is among local councils that the government has ordered to quickly improve their air quality.

Under Bristol’s plan, it’s expected that the city’s air quality would reach compliant levels by 2025.

Why just diesel?

Diesel cars, especially older ones, usually produce more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than petrol cars. They’ve come under scrutiny over concerns about their emissions, especially after the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal.  

While there is no imminent UK ban planned for diesel cars, under the government’s 2017 UK Air Quality plan, the sale of both new diesel and petrol cars will be stopped in 2040.

In Bristol, a scrappage scheme for diesel cars is being considered to encourage and help drivers to switch to less polluting alternatives.

What do Bristol residents think of the plan?

The Bristol Clean Air Alliance, a local campaign group, broadly welcomed the council’s plans and described the ban as “more radical than the charging zones that other cities are implementing”.

Not everyone is in favour of the plans, though. One resident tweeted: “Bristol economy will be affected. Bristol will just be a sea of empty shops and hipster coffee shops! Just another stupid plan and money maker.”

Another Tweeter questioned: “I make a return journey through Bristol city centre every 2 weeks in my 2-year-old diesel car. The sensible alternative is 20 miles further. How is that an environmentally friendly option?”

Bristol’s Mayor said the plan was needed to meet government targets and better than the alternative of charging all vehicles in the central area, which would disproportionately affect residents on lower incomes.

What are other cities doing?

Drivers of more polluting cars, including most diesels, have to pay a daily fee to drive in central London under the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which came into force in April this year to help tackle dangerously high levels of air pollution in the capital.

Other cities across the UK are also taking action to improve air quality and reduce pollution. For example, Oxford is proposing to introduce the world’s first Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre. Both diesel and petrol vehicles would be banned from the centre in phases, starting in 2020. Meanwhile, Nottingham has already introduced a workplace parking levy to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Click here to find out more about what London and other cities are doing to reduce levels of pollution caused by vehicles. 

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