Bristol City Council has approved plans for Britain’s first no-diesel zone in the city centre as part of a drive to improve air quality in the area.

The so-called Clean Air Zone, to be implemented in 2021, has been devised as a means of delivering “the fastest possible improvement in air quality against targets for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) legal limits”, according to the council. 

The measures will see privately-owned diesel vehicles banned from entering a designated section of the city centre between 7am and 3pm every day. A wider charging zone would be in constant operation for high-emission commercial vehicles, with vans and taxis facing a £9 fee and buses and HGVs facing a £100 fee for entering it. 

The announcement comes two years after Bristol City Council was ordered by the government to produce a plan for bringing the area’s NO2 levels to within legal limits. It has been suggested that the Clean Air Zone could help to achieve this by 2025.  The proposal still needs government approval, however.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: “These ambitious plans demonstrate our commitment to tackling air pollution so we meet legal limits within the shortest time, without disproportionally affecting citizens on lower incomes, which would happen with a blanket approach to charging vehicles.

“Protecting the most vulnerable people from pollution is central to these plans and we have ensured that all impacts have been carefully considered. If approved, mitigation measures will support those most affected, especially those living in the most deprived communities.”

Nicholas Lyes, head of policy at the RAC, said the planned restrictions could have an adverse affect on roads elsewhere: “Major routes into, out of, and even around the city – like Temple Way and Brunel Way – would become out of bounds, with diesel vehicles forced onto other roads, which risks causing congestion problems where they don’t exist at the moment.” He also called attention to the fact that “drivers of diesel cars who are locked into finance packages may face a significant penalty to exit their contract early”, and suggested that drivers of older vehicles could be forced into upgrading at significant cost.