Bristol Air Pollution: A History

The air in Bristol has been illegal for over twenty years. In this time we have only seen inaction, delay and dropped plans by our politicians. Our Air, Our City is here to say ‘enough is enough’ – we need Clean Air Right Now!

Read on to learn about the history of political failings on the issue in Bristol.


In 2017, Bristol City Council was directed by the government (Defra and DfT) to produce a Clean Air Plan setting out how they will achieve the required air quality improvements (compliance with the EU Limit Value for annual mean NO2) in the shortest possible time

In January 2019, the council published its Clean Air Plan, which included consideration of a clean air zone.   Since this was not a final plan DEFRA wrote back to Bristol City Council to say “. . .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, …. 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”.

In July 2019, Bristol City Council announced the dates when their clean air proposals would get Bristol’s toxic air within the legal maximum levels of pollution – not until 2028 or 2029. They also began a consultation on two options for a Traffic Clean Air Zone. 

In September 2019, Bristol City Council was expected to announce its Clean Air Plan (CAP) by the end of September to meet a government deadline but negotiated a five-week deadline extension.  Plans for a Diesel Vehicle Ban and Clean Air Zone in Bristol were published in November 2019 to be implemented in 2021 but the air would not be clean until 2025. However in early 2020 the Council dropped plans for a Diesel Vehicle Ban and now plans to drop the idea of a Clean Air Zone (see latest position below)

In April 2020, following the Extinction Rebellion Bristol actions on the roof of the Council House, the Council stated that they may be able to bring forward the compliance date from 2025 to 2023.  In June 2020, the Council announced street changes to give more space to pedestrians and cyclists.  They announced that by closing Bristol Bridge to private vehicles, the air pollution on Baldwin Street will be improved. Similarly air pollution will be improved by removing a lane for motor traffic on Lewins Mead/Haymarket and Park Row/Upper Maudlin Street/Marlborough Street.  In August 2020 these changes were made on a trial basis.

In August 2020 the Council stated that it hoped to avoid a Clean Air Zone by showing that air pollution would come within legal thresholds as a result of the street changes. The Council’s air quality monitoring has shown that these changes  not reduce air pollution The Council’s deadline to provide a new draft plan to address air pollution is now February 2021.

Now it seems that they are likely to submit a formal plan for a Clean Air Zone covering a small area in the city centre. While we welcome plans they are not enough to secure healthy air across the entirety of the city and, after many years of delays and dropping plans, we need to see firm commitment.


Let’s push for clean air in Bristol together.

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