Bristol’s Clean Air Zone cuts pollution – and raises £31.2m in charges and fines

BRISTOL’S Clean Air Zone has cut pollution in the city – and brought in more than £30 million in charges and fines.

A report into the scheme to charge drivers of older diesel and petrol cars entering the city centre has been published by the city council, covering the first year after it came into force in November 2022.

The council says the average level of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) across the city has been cut by 9.7%, with a bigger reduction of 12.6% inside the zone and smaller figure of 7.8% outside.

Three council NO2 monitors in Fishponds Road recorded reductions of between 5.6% and 22%, but one recorded an increase of 3.7% according to the report, produced for a council cabinet meeting in January.

The £9 daily charge – £100 for larger vehicles – to enter an area including Broadmead and Cabot Circus was brought in after the government told the authority to take action to cut NO2 levels to within the legal limit of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air. The number of sites where it was above the legal limit fell from 18 to six in the first year.

570,000 ‘fines’ issued

Of the 32.4 million journeys into the zone in a year, 28.1m were in newer vehicles which complied with its emission rules, 2m were in vehicles liable for the charge and 2.2m were in vehicles whose drivers had an exemption, such as hospital patients.

The council issued 570,000 penalty charges, of between £69 and £289, to owners of liable vehicles entering the zone without paying the daily fee.

Just under half (49%) had been paid by last November, with 6% cancelled after an appeal, 16% written off because the owner could not be traced or the debt recovered, and 28% still open: the council says it can take up to 18 months to deal with each case.

The cameras which issued the most penalty charge notices were at the bottom of the M32 at Newfoundland Circus, where 129,000 vehicles were recorded.

The report said the total number of vehicles entering the zone last December was higher than a year previously, but the proportion of cars liable for charging was decreasing, as their drivers either avoided the zone or replaced the vehicle with a newer, compliant one: more petrol, hybrid and electric cars were recorded in the zone.

Millions to spend on transport projects

The total income from the first year of the CAZ was just over £31.2m.

After more than £4.8 million in costs, the council’s net income was just under £26.4m, which will be spent on transport schemes including subsidising bus services, pothole repairs and upgrades to footpaths and cycle routes.

Mayor Marvin Rees said: “The Clean Air Zone remains a blunt instrument from national government, who take £2 from every £9 charge paid by motorists, but, thanks to the support package that we negotiated from Westminster, it is working.

“The CAZ was never about making money for the council: it was about clean air. If our progress cleaning up our air continues, then, in the not-too-distant future, the CAZ should come to an end.”