Council buys diesel vans as it plans ban and charging zone
BRISTOL City Council has admitted it bought 64 diesel vans this year – and has another 18 coming in January.
A £6.1 million scheme to replace three-quarters of its ageing fleet with newer, cleaner diesel vehicles was approved by ruling Labour cabinet in December 2017.
Since then the council has announced plans to ban all privately-owned diesels from the city centre from 2021 and introduce a clean air zone in a wider area, starting in Easton and St Philip's, where owners of older, more polluting diesel vehicles will have to pay a daily charge to use them.
The leader of the council's Green group says the move shows that the diesel ban and CAZ, which are being introduced to meet government targets for cutting pollution, are just a "tick-box exercise".
The authority says it will reconsider buying diesel vans in future.
Council documents suggest the authority has spent at least £2.7m on new vans this year.
The plan was to buy 342 new cars and vans to cut emissions and repair costs, since half of its fleet was more than a decade old, cabinet papers show.
It was estimated that buying smaller vans, making them white instead of silver and reducing the size of the fleet would save £2.3m.
So far the council has replaced 135 of its old vehicles and another 29 new vehicles are coming in January. Half of them – 82 – are diesel.
The roll-out of the remaining 178 is on hold while the council assesses what new technology is available, expands its infrastructure for electric vehicles and finalises its clean air plans, said a spokesman.
The last new vehicles should be on the road by the end of March 2021, and at least 10 per cent of the final fleet will be EVs, the spokesman added.
None of the new council vehicles would be affected by the council's own restrictions as the proposed 7am-to-3pm city centre ban applies only to privately-owned diesels, while the CAZ only applies to commercial vehicles that do not meet diesel (Euro 6) or petrol (Euro 4) emission standards.
Of the 164 new vehicles that will have hit the streets by the end of January next year, 19 are electric, 82 are Euro 6 diesel vehicles and 63 are Euro 6 petrol vehicles.
The authority launched a consultation on its clean air plans at the start of July.
Later that month, it agreed to pay Renault UK and Trust Ford £2.7million each for replacement vans over the following 12 months, a procurement document shows.
When asked about the contracts, a council spokesman said: “The details of contracts associated with the purchase of these vehicles are considered commercially sensitive and cannot be disclosed.”
The council submitted its outline clean air plans to the government on November 6.
It expects to find out after the general election whether it has the go-ahead from Defra to finalise them, a process which will involve more public consultation.
Decisions on the fuel type and the specification of the 178 new vehicles yet to be introduced are expected to be made in the New Year.
A spokesman for the council said: “We’re supporting the city to become carbon neutral by 2030.
“This includes our own target of being a carbon neutral council by 2025. To hit this target we’re reducing our carbon footprint across all departments and that includes upgrading our fleet to replace older vehicles."
The spokesman said "a minimum of 10 per cent" of the council's fleet would be electric once its upgrade is complete, adding: “Of those purchased already, 64 are diesel, which were purchased due to suitable petrol equivalents being unavailable. All vehicles purchased conform to the latest European emissions standards (Euro 6).
“The further roll out of 178 vehicles had previously been put on hold whilst the team seeks clarification from manufacturers on new vehicle models being released in 2020, including those not currently available as electric powered, and will not continue until this information has been received.
“No decisions have been made on the fuel make-up of future vehicle purchases.”
Green group leader Eleanor Combley said: “The council is buying new diesel vehicles as part of a fleet upgrade to reduce carbon emissions.
“They won’t be affected by the clean air zone diesel ban or charge because they are council-owned, and deemed ‘low pollution’ vehicles, so they can drive throughout Bristol at any time.
“However, if anyone else tried to do the same and buy a ‘cleaner’ diesel as their own car, they would find themselves banned from the centre of Bristol.
“If instead they kept driving a dirty and inefficient old petrol car, they would be able to drive where they like with no ban and no charge. How does this make sense?”
Cllr Combley added that the proposed diesel ban only targets nitrogen emissions, which is just half of the air pollution problem.
By Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Picture: One of the vans the council will replace over the next 18 months.