Rebels climb Bristol City Hall to demand clean air for life

Rebels demand clean air for life from the roof of Bristol City Hall
Photo credit: Simon Holliday

At 5am this morning, five rebels climbed up the tower of Bristol City Hall. They have refused to come down until Bristol City Council commit to ensuring legally clean air in every suburb of the city by April 2021.

“This is not an unreasonable commitment to require from a city that was the first in the UK to declare a Climate Emergency in November 2018,” says XR Bristol Regional Coordinator Pete Hughes. He is one of the climbers up on the roof.

Bristol Council followed up with a declaration of Ecological Emergency in February 2020.

“In no other context would you see people using the word ‘emergency’ but taking so little practical action,” says Pete. 

“Bristol is already lagging behind the measures introduced by other UK cities. Our air pollution not only has appalling effects for the people of the city, but it is contributing to the planetary climate and ecological emergency.

“We need to see a clear plan of action to address this emergency, with targets and milestone dates. That’s how the changes we desperately need will be made.

“The proposed Clean Air Zone is already very limited in scope, and the Mayor is talking of delaying its implementation due next March. 

“We had clean air during lockdown. We know that pollution levels will rise as economic activity returns. All we’re asking at this stage is that air pollution doesn’t rise above the maximum legal limit defined by the World Health Organisation WHO / European regulations. 

“We want the Mayor and the council to make a public commitment to that, and we’re not coming down until we have it.”

Shoes laid out on College Green to represent the 296 people who die every year due to toxic air in Bristol.
Photo credit: Simon Holliday

Also today, rebels have created a dramatic display called ‘The Shoes of the Missing’, setting out 296 pairs of shoes on College Green to represent the numbers of lives lost in Bristol each year due to the inaction and delay of Bristol City Council and the West of England Combined Authority on air pollution.

This display is a sombre reminder of the impact air pollution has on the lives of people in Bristol.

In preparation for the action, XR Bristol put a call-out for 296 pairs of shoes. Members of the public, XR supporters, and many others gave us 444, which were cycled, walked and car-shared to College Green from locations all over the city. These shoes will all be collected up for future actions and ultimately donated to charity.

The city has not had clean air for at least 26 years. Bristol City Council’s own data shows that annual levels of NO2 have been consistently above 40µg/m3 (the annual legal limit) at various city centre sites since at least 1994. Lockdown is the first time Bristol has had clean air in over two decades, possibly much longer.

Shoes of the missing: these shoes represent the 296 people who die prematurely every year due to air pollution in Bristol.
Photo credit: Simon Holliday

Transport and medical experts will be talking on College Green on the risk of air pollution to Bristolians.

They include Dr Steve Melia, Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning at UWE, Dr Diana Warner, retired GP and David Brenig-Jones, international sustainable transport consultant.

Dr Steve Melia says:

“We need to fight for breathable air across the city. As the lockdown eases, traffic will increase but public transport will remain restricted. The increases we have seen in walking and cycling could be squeezed out by motor traffic. We need to make sure that we don’t go back to car-dominated cities.”

Dr Diana Warner, retired GP, says:

“Illegal levels of air pollution affects everyone’s health. On top of this, people in the poorest areas of Bristol generally die ten years earlier than those living in the wealthiest areas and the gap is increasing. Bristol City Council’s air monitors already show nitrogen oxide emissions creeping back up to illegal levels. It is common sense that the council prioritise safe transport for all now – cycling and walking, affordable and acceptable public transport – so we can transform our city and save lives.”

Contact Bristol’s Mayor, Marvin Rees or your local councillor to demand action on air pollution using this pre-crafted letter template >

Clean Air For Life, not just for lockdown