Bristol residents support measures required to achieve cleaner air

Our research found that residents’ suggestions on tackling air quality reflect the ambition of the city to reach clean air compliance and net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible, in line with the Government’s legal requirements. As part of our study, 1,400 Bristol people were asked what they want from their future city. Many indicated they would be willing to drive less in the future and adopt more pro-environmental behaviour.

Three-quarters (74%) of participants surveyed in the ClairCity study want to use public transport or active travel in the future, compared to 54% now. For shopping and leisure, 66% want to use public or active transport in the future, compared to 38% now.

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We found that if residents’ preferences were implemented, compliance with legal levels of air pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) would be reached in the timeframe required by Government. The study was conducted in 2017, before the announcement of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) plan but the policies identified as being popular with citizens were similar to those being developed by Bristol City Council to achieve compliance in the shortest time possible.

In fact, our research showed that citizens supported measures that went further than those currently being developed. Implementing the policies identified by residents would also allow the city to achieve carbon neutrality sooner than current baseline policy ideas, the EU study revealed.

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ClairCity involved citizens in decision-making through a variety of methods, including surveys, workshops (in Brislington, Bishopston, Barton Hill, Knowle West) and an interactive game for smartphones called ClairCity Skylines. They were presented with possible policy measures and asked what they would support to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions, as well as what enabling changes could be made to make adoption more favourable. Our modellers across the EU then took these ideas and quantified what the results would be.

The favourite policy measures that resulted from the engagement process were banning/phasing out the most polluting vehicles (not just charging vehicles); making buses greener and cleaner; making public transport cheaper, and creating good alternatives to car use – through better walking and cycling infrastructure.

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Residents taking part in the study also called for a faster implementation of change or more ambitious targets to enable them to be more environmentally friendly. However, these engagements occurred prior to the IPCC report in 2018, which indicated there was a 12 year window in which urgent action on climate change. It is possible the suggested measures would be more ambitious if the research was conducted today.

Our Technical Director, Professor Enda Hayes, Director of UWE Bristol’s Air Quality Management Resource Centre, said:

“Citizens clearly seek ambitious targets to reduce air pollution and climate change causing carbon emissions in Bristol. Our research shows that citizen involvement in these discussions can spur on city wide action. People want to change but need support from our businesses, workplaces,  councils and national government if we want to live with clean air.

“The West of England is faced with the daunting task of reducing air pollution and carbon emissions to safe levels as soon as possible. These citizen supported ideas indicate that it’s not just about banning or phasing out polluting vehicles – the conditions have to be created so that citizens can access local amenities without polluting our environment and health. ClairCity shows that the task of future proofing the city can be sped up with the involvement of Bristol’s citizens.”

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said:

“We have a duty to clean Bristol’s air, and we are currently working hard to achieve legal compliance with the Government’a air quality limits in the shortest possible time.

We welcome these findings and have made significant progress. As always, we will continue to engage and listen to people’s views as our plans develop further”

For the latest information on the clean air plans for Bristol visit

Bristol’s air pollution

Our scientists have revealed why we cause air pollution and carbon emissions in Bristol through our transport choices. Surprisingly, car travel to shopping and leisure activities contributes over half of our emissions – that’s more air pollution than through commuting and business travel.

Across all ages, genders, and income brackets, leisure-time activities generate the most emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM10 (40%)*. The data also shows that people use different modes of travel to get to different activities and places – it is less likely to only use one form of transport for all activities. This is despite most current efforts to change travel behaviours being focused on rush hour travel, when people typically commute to and from work.

Air pollution causes five deaths per week in Bristol. Poor air quality disproportionately harms children and the elderly, causing respiratory diseases, cancer and exacerbating heart conditions. Bristol City Council is legally required to reduce air pollution levels and has recently released a Clean Air Plan.

The activities polluting our air are also the same ones producing carbon emissions – the major cause of climate change. Reducing carbon emissions in cities is critical to achieve major cuts in carbon globally, so reducing climate risks. Bristol City Council and the surrounding authorities have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Air pollution is a social justice issue

We also looked at what demographic groups create the most emissions. 26-49-year olds produce the most air pollutants, through greater use of their cars for leisure activities and commuting to work.

People with higher incomes travel more often by car than those from lower incomes – resulting in higher emissions. The overall proportions for travel to each activity stays the same, but the amount of travel, and therefore emissions, increases. This means that richer people travel by car to more work locations, more leisure activities, and more business trips.

Bristolian men contribute 10% more to road NOx emissions than Bristolian women (40% vs 30%). This is largely due to the fact they use their car for commuting and business more. Women and men contribute about the same NOx from buses, although they use them slightly differently.

How did we work this out?

A fine granular dataset of road transport emissions was generated that allowed source allocation not only at the typical level of travel choice (e.g. car, bus, taxi, cycling, walking etc) but also the underlying behaviour or motive (e.g. shopping, commuting, leisure etc) and socio-economic properties of the people travelling (e.g. gender, age, income etc). The scientists say the scientifically robust yet flexible methodology is designed to allow it to use different types of public datasets, which can be applied to different cities in similar fashion. Two produce these findings, they followed two steps:

  1. Create a network model of the city to understand traffic flows at links in road networks to calculate total emissions; and
  2. Merge the emission dataset from step 1 with national travel survey data, which include information on the underlying motives and socio-economic data of travellers of individual trips.

So now what?

Professor Enda Hayes of the Air Quality Management Resource Centre at UWE, Bristol is one of the lead researchers. He explains: “Traditional air quality and carbon policy has often been orientated towards addressing peak travel (i.e. morning and evening commuting) but this evidence helps to reformulate the air quality and carbon policy debate so that societal behaviour and the need for societal change becomes central to achieving low carbon, healthy futures for our cities”.

ClairCity has been involving city residents in future policy ideas since 2016.  Policy suggestions will be combined with citizen preferences and aspirations, in order to generate sophisticated future scenarios that model the options available to each city. This unique approach is raising awareness of air quality in our cities and ultimately allows us to work towards a future with clean air.

We can all make a difference to air pollution. There’s individual changes, such as choosing to change the way we get around the city; collective choices such as working with parents, colleagues, friends or campaign groups to influence group behaviour (e.g. walk to school clubs, cycle to work schemes); or systemic changes made by policy and law makers. We need change on every level – where can you make the biggest difference?

To help you make a change we’ve produced some shareable graphics for you – please download and share widely!

* Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) is a common air pollutant that comes from the combustion of fuels, such as diesel in cars. Particulate Matter 10 (PM10)’s are airborne particles so small that they can penetrate our lungs. PM10 and PM2.5 (even smaller) mainly derive from road transport, such as the dust that is released when we break, from tyres, road dust or from soot from exhausts.

Download our PDF full of shareable graphics – Tweet, post and print till your heart’s content!

Space to Breathe

Gridlock in Bristol @Robert Ashby
Gridlock in Bristol @Robert Ashby

Gridlock – a word we hear far too often in European cities. Like clogged arteries, our cities struggle to push through their traffic and continue business as usual. When the blood stops pumping, it is a sign that the (transport) system is failing. In this series of blogs we look at some of the main air pollution challenges for each of our partner cities… starting with Bristol

In Britain, in one decade, the yearly commute is now on average 18 hours longer. Britain’s rail network is overcrowded, its bus service has been severely impacted by ongoing budget cuts despite it being the most frequently used mode of public transport, and cars and vans remain the most popular mode of travel for trips. Two thirds (62%) of all trips are made by car/van, compared to 25% for walking, 8% for bus and just 2% each for trains and bicycles. Most trips made by private car continue to be less than 5 miles (see NTS0308). That equates to over 12 trillion tonnes of CO2 per year emitted each year through these largely avoidable car journeys[1] – or 24% of UK’s domestic greenhouse gases. Pollution from cars and vans costs £6 billion per year in health damages, which to bring the analogy full circle, clogs our arteries. And it effects the poorest the most – in Bristol, you only have to look at the houses either side of the M32 for this to sink in.

Freeing up space

If these sub-5-mile journeys were avoided then two thirds of road users in any given day would be removed from the equation. This frees up the roads for a much improved bus network, and creates space for millions more cyclists who were once fearful of being knocked over during rush hour. With this new space, we could also improve life for those who can’t get about by active travel. Trams could be installed, cycle and foot paths built and pedestrian zones created across cities, not to mention all the possibilities for recreation and wildlife corridors! It’s these policy decisions which ClairCity has been examining through its Delphi process, with many Bristol residents showing great support for major changes in our cities and a preference not to travel by car to work in the future.

Neighbourhood design and life in the future

We need to consider how we will all work, live and play in the future. For our city to work as it should, we need a transport system which can get people from a-to-b safely, in a reasonable time and in the healthiest way possible.

Part of the reason why people travel by car/van is because their local neighbourhoods lack local amenities, such as green grocers, sports clubs, libraries, or places of worship, meaning not only are people needing to drive for their leisure pursuits, but they are finding it increasingly harder to have enough social contact in a given week. Each neighbourhood needs to be designed with environmental and social impact in mind.

Imagine if more people worked from home, could use local co-working spaces, or teleconferencing instead of travelling to work every day? And with more local amenities, people can enjoy the places where they live and hopefully gain upskilled work in climate adaptation, community organising or some other role that has not been invented yet.

We are already starting to see some of these ideas come to pass. From National Clean Air Day, to Playing Out, School Streets, school buses, cycle-to-work schemes, and city electric car rentals there are already many committed activists out there. With Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset Councils all declaring a Climate Emergency along with pledges to Bristol’s Leap Energy Partnership (the biggest ever council-led energy investment programme in the UK) we are off to a promising start.

Show me the money

However, the battle has not yet been won. Local governments are struggling to keep up with the pace of change required and marginalised communities continue to be left out of decision-making processes, meaning those with the biggest carbon footprint continue to have the biggest voice.

As Alex Morse wrote earlier this year in the Independent: “The problem is, Bristol is leading a blindfolded egg and spoon race. It has scraped together a £250,000 emergency budget, and like all the other cities it will have to invent its own direction, lacks crucial powers and has to rely on much goodwill, luck and voluntary compliance to address some of its biggest carbon emission problems. There is no jurisdiction over local businesses or residents to audit or regulate their carbon emissions”.

Holding business accountable

At the moment, some of the biggest industries, either operating in the city or supplying goods to the city, leave us in the dark about their carbon footprint. As Morse adds: “Either we adopt the mantra of buying local or we are largely dumping our carbon overseas”.

Big businesses need to be held accountable for their impact, for example by auditing the carbon footprint of teams or departments, the products they make or services, and where they are investing their money (including pension schemes). Meanwhile, central Governments need to implement a principle of ecocide to prevent environmental destruction, invest in and subsidise renewable energy, invest in community infrastructure and prioritise our national railways – the list is not exhaustive.

Demanding change

At a collective level, we can unite around these issues to push for change, and draw on precedents to help the campaign.

Some things we could do in Bristol to help shift the balance of power could include:

We need all hands-on deck in Bristol to ensure we can reach net carbon neutrality by 2030 and ensure that marginalised voices are included. What actions could your community take? Share your comments below.

[1] 46.9m (62% of the population) x (5 miles x 364 days) = 85358e10 miles/y). 5mi in a Diesel car (with an average MPG of 51.7) = 1.15kg CO2. 1.15kg x 85358e10 = 12803700000000000 = 12,803,700,000,000 Tonnes CO2. This is not the most sophisticated calculation, and it is unlikely that all of these drivers commute by themselves… but the fact of the matter is that we are polluting a lot of unnecessary CO2.

Supporting Bristol Clean Air Day 2019

The UK celebrated its third Clean Air Day on 20th June 2019, and the ClairCity team were in high demand across Bristol and the media.

Our day started with a morning assembly at Ashton Gate Primary School in South Bristol thanks to Action Greater Bedminster, where 300 keen young air quality scientists had lots of ideas on how to clean up Bristol’s dirty air.

Many thanks to our new friends at Ashton Gate Primary – 300 smart and ready air quality experts with loads of ideas on how we can improve the air we breathe together #CleanAirDay @cleanairdayuk @DayBristol @sbristolvoice

— ClairCity (@ClairCity) June 20, 2019

The children already knew that air pollution was a problem, but they were glad to hear that their location and the traffic calming measures in front of their school meant that their playground was under the legal limit. Worse news was that their city centre was not so safe. They planned to do an air pollution activity using our ClairCity chatterboxes to learn more and take the message home to family and friends.

Heading east

Next stop on our tour was the neighbourhood group St George Breathing Better in East Bristol. We helped them with resources and stickers while they ran a photo action campaign about air pollution in their neighbourhood. The event took place in the Beehive Centre, a busy community centre where Thursday mornings include toddler groups and supported activities for older residents – two of the most vulnerable groups for air pollution.

In the news

While Corra helped with conversations amongst neighbours, Dr Laura De Vito was interviewed on Ujima Radio, a Bristol station that designs content specifically to meet the needs of the African-Carribean and other Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Interviewed by Jasime Ketibuah-Foley, one of Bristol’s previous “Green and Black Ambassadors” for a show also featuring the Mayor of Bristol, Laura explained the links between air pollution and social inequalities.

Elsewhere in the city, Dr Jo Barnes was being interviewed for the regional lunchtime and evening BBC news, and as part of a national piece shown on Channel 4 news.

Sunshine afternoon

Then it was a lunchtime stop off at the Bristol Clean Air Alliance event in Castle Park, where a number of organisations gathered to share information on local air pollution and environmental issues with lunchtime park goers.

In the afternoon, the team hit the town again with representation at Mayor Marvin Rees’ official Clean Air Plan launch and supporting Clean Air Bishopston out on Gloucester Road in North Bristol. Colleagues from the Centre for Transport and Society at UWE Bristol provided key facts, information on transport research and options to the after-work crowd. Our huge thanks to all of the community groups involved in setting up all of the events we visited.

Super happy with our turn out today for

— Bristol Clean Air Day (@DayBristol) June 20, 2019

#cleanairbishopston .. for clean air day …

— The Bishopston Society (@BishSoc) June 20, 2019

If your community would like a visit from an air quality expert for a chat about the situation in Bristol or more information then please get in touch.

Mayor of Bristol promotes ClairCity Skylines

The ClairCity Skylines team with Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees

As part of the launch of ClairCity Skylines, the free game available for download on Android and iOS devices from ClairCity, Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees was one of the first players of the game. Alongside UWE Bristol students, he attended the game launch event in The Foundry space at UWE Bristol to test the game and talk with journalists.

Mayor Marvin Rees plays ClairCity Skylines with UWE students

Marvin said: “The ClairCity project’s new game is an exciting and different way of getting people involved in the conversation about air quality. This is a massive issue facing Bristol with our residents and visitors at risk from unacceptable levels of pollution.

“We are working hard to tackle the issue but we need everyone to work together and be aware of what we can all do to contribute to making a positive change. As well as being entertaining, this game will also provide us with an alternative insight into what people might like to see happening in our city to make it a healthier place.”

If you want to try the game, go to our ClairCity Skylines page and download it for free.

Mutual Learning Workshop for Bristol

Bristol’s mutual learning workshop was designed for different stakeholders who are engaged in environment, health issues and policies in the city. It took place in July 2017, and was aimed at developing routes to a “clean air”, healthy, zero-carbon Bristol by 2050 by understanding specific challenges and opportunities for organisations, and engaging them to identify actions, milestones and priorities.

Attendees included a range of organisations, from First Bus, community groups such as Ambition Lawrence Weston and Easton Energy Group, local councillors in South Gloucestershire and Bristol, Bristol Walking Alliance, Residents Against Dirty Energy (RADE), At-Bristol, local employers, Bristol Health Partnership and NHS representatives, energy experts, academics from UWE and the University of Bristol.  Though the business sector was underrepresented at the workshop, participants from this sector identified their strategies around increasing the efficiency of their fleets and reducing waste.

The keynote speaker presentations are available to watch on Youtube.

Overall the workshop had a positive atmosphere.  Participants were happy to be involved and mutually learn about and discuss air pollution, health and carbon reduction.  Feedback from participants was largely positive, highlighting in particular the opportunity to talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to. A minority of feedback suggests there should have been a bigger focus on actions but the workshop was still felt to be positive from a “getting everyone in the same room” view point.

Discussion points

Each participant was asked to share their organisation’s current actions towards air quality and reducing carbon emissions, and to suggest their vision for a “clean air” healthy zero-carbon Bristol related to their organisation. Then participants identified challenges and barriers to change. The challenges and barriers they identified can broadly be categorised as: political; business/market; housing; citizen challenges; cultural; housing.

In the political category, many comments identified lack of government funding or government inaction as barriers along with “short-termism” and business as usual approaches. Challenges for citizens were noted around a lack of options in terms of the “school run”, flexible working hours and access to public transport.  In terms of culture, ignorance of evidence and acceptance and social expectations around the conflict between sustainability and current travel behaviours were raised. Transport challenges and barriers focussed on the lack of a quality alternative to car use and the inefficiencies of public transport.  For housing affordable and efficient housing for a growing population was highlighted. Business/market challenges identified the need to think about alternatives to government spending to pay for training and new technologies.

Actions and milestones

Actions, milestones and priorities were devised in four separate groups.  Group discussions led to different actions and different areas of focus:

One group developed a timeline from 2020 to 2050 focused on moving to a clean air Bristol by promoting and enabling electric vehicles, developing joint spatial plans for 2030 to 2040 and then focussing on the different types of social, political and planning action that would be needed.

A second group focussed more on the political, social and community changes needed over the time scale, prioritising increased community, bottom-up approaches, collaborative partnerships and a change to the electoral and democratic governance of the UK to proportional representation and devolution.

A third group focussed on the actions needed in the short term by the City Council such as reporting and funding a clean air zone, improving transport links to South Bristol, challenging the decision-making process of the council, changing the procurement process and making public transport more affordable.

The final group also focussed on planning policy locally, the need for a spatial plan to focus on air pollution, address diesel generation, a comprehensive bus strategy and Clean Air Zone and delivering a mechanism to raise investment.  They also considered the role of the housing stock and the need to make all homes energy efficient.


Overall the Bristol mutual learning workshop successfully engaged with a variety of stakeholders from different sectors and organisations.

In Bristol, clean air and air pollution are largely linked to the transport sector – both in people’s minds and in reality.  The need for better transport and infrastructure planning in Bristol is clearly identified and links to improved housing and better connectedness across the city.  Spatial plans need to be adequately supported by effective social planning that considers health impacts, and also requires political leadership and action.

The wide representation of civil and civil society organisations led to the identification of social and cultural barriers to change, but also opportunities and potential policy actions to increase bottom-up community and citizen engagement in local governance and decision making – something the ClairCity project aims to do.

A challenge of the workshop was supporting the groups to turn their attention to definite “actions” in the scenario session at the end. Though political short-termism was identified as a barrier by stakeholders, the groups’ pathways from 2020 to 2050 were largely short-term (apart from one group) when it came to setting actions and milestones beyond the next five years.

This highlights the difficulties scientists, policy makers, industry and civil/civic society organisations all have in visualising potential transformative actions that go beyond the systems already in place.  Future workshops could seek to address this by spending more time on pathway development and less on barriers.