Mayor says charging would hit the poorest

March 01 2019

BRISTOL will get its first glimpse of a clean air plan for the city in March – and it is unlikely to feature congestion charges.

By Amanda Cameron

Local Democracy Reporter*

BRISTOL will get its first glimpse of a clean air plan for the city in March – and it is unlikely to feature congestion charges.

Proposals to introduce a congestion charge for non-Bristolians driving into the city were thrown out at a meeting on February 26 where the council set its budget for the upcoming year.
The congestion charge was proposed by Green councillors to reduce traffic volumes in the city and fund improvements to its bus services, but were rejected by the majority.
Mayor Marvin Rees said a congestion charge targeting commuters who live outside Bristol would be illegal and would worsen poverty.
“A congestion charge is an example of people seeing the challenge of climate change through a prism of privilege,” he said.
“It will worsen poverty, and just in case you think you can only charge out-of-town residents, you cannot. I’m afraid it’s illegal.”
The Labour leader said his administration took the issue seriously and promised to release a comprehensive clean air plan for the city next month.
“We have done substantial modelling on clean air zones and will table our initial plans to improve air quality in the city in March, based on evidence,” Cllr Rees said.
“The evidence clearly shows a charging zone for individual cars will adversely and disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities in Bristol.
“Air quality is a population health issue, that goes without saying, but so is poverty and we must take poverty seriously.
“We must make our air cleaner without worsening poverty, which, in itself, is the most serious health risk.
“This Labour administration will deliver carbon neutrality and clean air and tackle climate change in Bristol.”
The council faces the threat of legal action after it missed two government deadlines to produce a clean air plan, partly over concern a proposed clean air zone would affect the poorest.
Green councillor for Clifton Jerome Thomas, who proposed the congestion charge scheme, said charging the 60 per cent of daily commuters who arrive from outside Bristol the equivalent of a bus fare to enter the city would generate at least £6.5million a year by 2023/24 to invest in better bus services.
But the proposal was thrown out by 49 votes to seven, along with several other budget amendments proposed by members of the Green, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups.
The Greens had success with three of their proposals though. The council voted to spend £2.5million in 2019/20 adding extra rooms to some council houses and adapting others for adults with disabilities. They also resolved to fund a plan to make Bristol carbon neutral by 2030 by introducing fines for landlords who rent homes that aren’t energy efficient.
The council’s budget for 2019/20 has no provision to tackle air pollution or congestion but is “designed to support” the achievement of air quality standards, according to budget papers.
A council tax rate rate hike of 3.99 per cent means there will be no new cuts to day-to-day services, but legacy savings from last year’s budget will continue.
The amount set aside for high needs spending has increased to £58.2million.
The increase follows a successful legal challenge by two Bristol parents last year over the council’s decision to cut £5millon from funding for children with special educational needs.
Cllr Rees said “safeguarding our services” was one of the key aims of the budget for 2019/20.
It was voted through by a majority on February  26.

* The Local Democracy Reporter scheme is funded by the BBC out of the TV licence. It pays for 150 reporters around the country to cover some of the issues that newspapers often do not have the staff for any  more – mainly council issues but also involving other public bodies including the police and schools. South Bristol Voice is a member of the scheme, which means we have the right to use the stories produced by the three Local Democracy Reporters in Bristol. We aren’t able to influence which stories are chosen or how they are written. The  Local Democracy Reporters work at the offices of Bristol Live (publisher of the Bristol Post) and are managed by Bristol Live.