"Fortune will favour the brave," says Angela Terry
Angela Terry, environmental scientist and founder of the climate change website One Home, has spoken out on Bristol's proposed Clean Air Zone on National Clean Air Day (Thursday June 21).
Angela is urging Bristol City Council and Bristol citizens to make bold decisions if it is to have a Clean Air Zone that benefits the city, the health of its inhabitants and the environment.
Bristol was instructed by Government in July last year to come up with a plan to reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions, and the city is now considering a series of options based around either a small or medium-sized charging clean air zone in the centre of the city. This would levy a charge for the use of buses and coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles, heavy and lights goods vehicles and potentially private cars. A non-charging clean air zone is also among the options.
Angela says: "The impact of poor air quality on health must not be underestimated. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths across the UK each year. A figure that you will never see printed in glossy car magazines is that each diesel car in London costs the NHS and society an incredible £16,000 over the course of its 14-year lifetime, according to research published earlier this month by the universities of Bath and Oxford.
"The effect on the environment is also well documented.
"In the UK, transport is the main source of harmful greenhouse gases and emissions from cars are increasing each year as people buy bigger cars and drive more.
"Something must change. We must break our addiction to petrol and diesel and overcome the inertia which stands in the way of change."
Angela believes that Clean Air Zones in cities are at the heart of making healthier, happier, more active places and that Bristol has a unique opportunity to set in place a transformative plan that will have far reaching benefits.
According to the city council, around 40 per cent of harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions in central Bristol are estimated to come from diesel cars. Certain vehicles will be exempt from a charge, including diesels registered after 2014, petrol cars and vans registered after 2006 and electric vehicles.
"The principle that 'polluters pay' must apply to Bristol's proposals, and that must include all high polluting vehicles, including private cars. A clean air zone in which cars are exempt would be madness. By the time the zone is implemented (by 2023), exempt petrol cars will be 17 years old so the proposals are already 'light touch' and they must not be allowed to be watered down further.
"These decisions can be unpopular. Some may see this as a tax on drivers who cannot afford to pay the charge or upgrade to a cleaner vehicle, but we have no option. The public health and environmental issues are so grave that we can no longer continue to keep getting into old polluting cars and ignoring the consequences, especially when clean alternatives exist today."
Angela believes that a no-charge Clean Air Zone, which is one option that Bristol is considering, will not work.
"The idea that the city can dramatically reduce its emissions by simply encouraging sustainable methods of transport simply won't work. Society's reliance on the car is so deeply engrained that a plan that relies on the carrot without the stick is destined to fail."
But Angela also recognises the importance of ensuring adequate alternatives are put in place so that people can move easily around the city without their cars.
"When London introduced the Congestion Charge, there were plenty of campaigns for watering down the concept. However, these fears were unfounded and the scheme has generated significant revenue for the city to spend on public transport and they have just announced an extension to the zone.
"Any scheme must ring fence the revenue that is brought in from the Clean Air Zone and this needs to be spent on improving Bristol's cycle lanes, public transport and other forms of sustainable travel.
"Action must be taken now to ensure city centre travel improvements are made in the next five years so that people are confident they have an alternative to the car by 2023."
Angela is also an advocate of electric vehicles, which would be exempt from Bristol's Clean Air Zone.
"Low carbon technologies are developing all the time so we can completely re-think our reliance on fossil fuels. Electric cars are an essential part of the solution to help clear up the air we breathe. They offer convenient, affordable travel which avoid all the tail-pipe emissions that petrol and diesel cars produce. They are also cheaper to run because electricity is far cheaper than filling up at a petrol station - you pay around 3p a mile rather than 10p.
"People are often concerned about battery ranges but the average car trip is less than nine miles and battery ranges of 100 miles are standard and are improving all the time. Starting from around £12,500 new, electric cars are not significantly more expensive to buy or lease.
"Change is in the air," concludes Angela.
"It is now up to Bristol to seize the opportunity to clean up its air with both hands and deliver a bold plan that will not only tackle the toxic air pollution which is the source of so many problems but will make Bristol a much more pleasant city for all its citizens. Anything less will not fix the problem and will be a disservice to the community."
Bristol City Council has until the end of the year to select a preferred option to put forward to central Government.
One Home is a new not-for-profit website that was set up by Angela to enable and encourage climate action by providing independent and impartial advice. It provides practical solutions on all things green as well as simple guides on low-carbon lifestyle choices. This is the only website currently available in the UK that offers a 'one-stop shop' on sustainable lifestyle choices, covering the entire suite of climate actions.
Angela Terry has 20 years' experience working in the renewables industry and was one of the first pioneers of community wind farms.
Photo: Luke Jerram's Inhale sculpture, pictured here outside City Hall in Bristol, represents a diesel soot particle three million times bigger than a particle's actual size. It is designed to make the damaging effects of air pollution visible to everyone. It has been commissioned by the University of the West of England as part of its Our City Our Health project, which aims to draw attention to the health impacts of poorly designed cities.