South Bristol Voice- January 2021

There has been much coverage in recent weeks of the death of nine year old.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013. Ella and her family lived adjacent to the South Circular Road in Lewisham, and she had suffered from chronic seizures, being hospitalised 27 times before her tragic death.

Ella’s story is making headlines now following a Coroner’s Court finding that air pollution “made a material contribution” to her death. The finding came after an against the odds fight from Ella’s family, and will have repercussions far beyond the boundaries of the London borough where the Adoo-Kissi-Debrah family lived.

The air pollution problems we have here in Bristol South are well documented, but often discussed in the abstract. We need to change the way we think of air pollution – and remake the solutions to fix it in Bristol.

A good start would be a move away from using our city centre as a starting point for projects to improve air quality. Road closures in the city centre, for example, have localised benefit and work as a statement of intent, but end up causing problems in other parts of south Bristol. We need action that ensures benefits are felt by everyone; we can’t just shift vehicle movement away from the city centre to other parts of the city.

There also needs to be a genuine acknowledgement that like so many other health and societal problems, poor air quality hits the poorest hardest. Worryingly, responses in other parts of the country have had at their heart solutions that similarly disadvantage those most in need of support. Clean air zones and low emission areas are grand in principle, but not if you cannot afford to replace the old car you rely on for your livelihood.

And the simple truth is that while many people in south Bristol can walk to the shops, to school and the park, they can’t walk to work. Local people working in Avonmouth, Emersons Green or Aztec West have no realistic public transport options open to them. They must drive to survive.

One reason that action on this has stalled so badly is the lack of a region-wide, coordinated approach. This is a Bristol-wide problem – but pollution isn’t just Bristol-generated. It is, in short, a problem almost designed to be tackled by our Metro Mayor. 

This has not happened for the past four years, saddled as we have been with a Metro Mayor who has been passive to the point of self obsolescence. But in recent months, we have seen metro mayors in other parts of the UK show real leadership – and we need that sort of leadership here. While I have reservations about the Metro Mayor role in principle, for as long as its there, it needs to deliver. And air pollution could be the issue that the next incumbent defines themselves by.