Two city councils planning to introduce fee-based Clean Air Zones are revising their plans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bristol has joined Leeds in considering an alternative scheme that won't charge households or businesses with older, more polluting vehicles to enter city limits.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees confirmed that changes to people's working and travelling habits meant there was less need for such an extensive scheme.
"Our plans have always been about cleaning up our air in the fastest possible time and not being anchored to one method," Rees said in a statement.
"We must be flexible in our approach and work together to get this right as a city. Everyone has a role to play in reducing air pollution, and if we all rise to the challenge, we can avoid bringing in costly measures.
“We will continue to do the work needed for the charging options we’ve already been developing. It's right that we explore new opportunities in line with the dramatic changes in our lifestyles, travel and income that residents and small businesses experienced following lockdown. The end result could actually achieve cleaner air faster whilst avoiding unintended negative consequences caused by charging vulnerable communities in Bristol.”
Bristol last year proposed both a Clean Air Zone and, in a smaller area of the city, a ban on privately owned diesel vehicles. The government has raised concern over the latter, meaning alternative plans need to be drawn up before a Clean Air Zone must be imposed in March next year.
Earlier this week, Leeds City Council has delayed plans to introduce a low-emissions zone in the city centre, following a sharp drop in local emissions during the pandemic.
It was set to come into force from 28 September but, along with similar schemes in Birmingham and Bristol, was delayed until 2021 when nationwide lockdown measures were imposed at the end of March.
Birmingham is the only city still sticking to the original plan, claiming that local emissions are still above legal levels.
For the Leeds scheme, heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches would have incurred a daily fee of £50 if they didn’t meet Euro 6 emissions standards, with taxis and private hire vehicles charged £12.50. Private cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles were to be exempt.
The future of the Leeds project is now uncertain, pending the findings of a review into the long-term impact of the pandemic and the effectiveness of existing measures.
Councillor James Lewis said that “local air quality has actually been improving for some time” and “Leeds residents now breathe air that's considerably cleaner and safer than just a few months ago”.
If pollution levels in the city remain with legal limits, Lewis added, Leeds City Council “will no longer have the support of the government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone”. It's now working to determine whether emissions will ever reach illegal levels again.
As well as a significant fall in traffic levels during the pandemic, more widespread use of low-emissions vehicles and new pedestrian and cycle schemes have contributed to the drop in pollution levels.