7 people stand posing for the camera with placards and flyers.

Make clean air fair, demand activists

Protesters gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday (October 18) to raise concerns about the upcoming Clean Air Zone, which they say will disproportionately affect disabled people. 

A small group of eight protesters gathered outside the main entrance and spoke to councillors arriving for the scheduled full council meeting. Many Green councillors mingled with the protesters before the meeting began. 

Bristol Disability Equality Forum (BDEF), who led the protest, have said that they are not opposed to the CAZ itself, and support efforts to reduce air pollution which disproportionately affects disabled people. 

Their issue is with how the CAZ will be implemented, specifically how the cost of paying the daily fee to drive a non-compliant car, or the costs of upgrading an existing car or buying a new one will put undue stress on disabled people, a group already overrepresented in poverty statistics.  

Emma Geen, spokesperson for BDEF, said: ‘Bristol is experiencing a dirty air crisis, which kills hundreds of Disabled people a year, so we welcome action to clean our air. But the price of clean air cannot be the independence of Disabled people. 

Over a third of adults in poverty are Disabled people and, alongside the burden of austerity, the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis, the scheme could drive many more into serious poverty or trap them in their homes.’

As part of the protest, one disabled person sat inside a mock cage and distributed flyers which read “caged by the clean air zone”, whilst others held a banner and placards. 

A woman in a wheelchair speaks to two people standing near her.
Green councillors Tim Wye and Carla Denyer speak with protesters outside City Hall. Image: Rob J Browne.

The CAZ, brought in by Bristol City Council to meet air quality targets set by national government, will see high polluting vehicles charge a daily rate of £9 to enter a boundary around the city centre. It is scheduled to begin on Monday, November 28. 

Bristol City Council has extended exemptions to those who live or work in the CAZ and offered financial support to people to upgrade or adapt their vehicle to be compliant ahead of the November start date. A blue badge exemption will protect holders from being fined, until it expires in March 2023. 

Geen has previously criticised the council’s support measures, pointing out that financial support – up to £2,000 – to adapt a vehicle, falls far short of the cost of doing so, and that many exemptions are tied to work status and therefore overlook those disabled people who, due to their disability, cannot work. 

Campaigners have sent a list of demands to the council which they say will help alleviate the pressure on disabled people once the CAZ comes into force next month. 

The asks include financial support for those who need to adapt vehicles, continued exemption for Blue Badge Holders, exemptions to include disabled people or those with long term health conditions who are unemployed or retired, an extended period for people to pay before being issued a fine, and for the council to make accessible and affordable public transport a priority.

For Geen, the implementation of the CAZ is about more than the cost of compliance and cuts to the heart of the council’s attitude towards climate justice. 

‘We can have a Clean Air Zone that works for everyone, but for that to happen we need the council to listen to Disabled people and work with us to implement solutions,’ said Geen.

‘This is a pivotal moment for climate justice in Bristol. On paper the council is committed to just environmental action, but they must now show that they’re willing to put weight behind their words,’ she continued.

Feature image: Rob J Browne.

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