Clean Air Zone ‘trap’ catches drivers out as they refuse to fly from UK airport

A holidaymaker flying from Bristol Airport has vowed never to fly from the UK airport again after being fined for driving through Bristol’s Clean Air Zone without realising it.

A man from Wales followed the signs to the airport from the M4 and M49 which directed him off the motorway at Avonmouth and down the Portway before seeing the first sign for Bristol’s Clean Air Zone.

Hywel Lee said he could do nothing but enter the zone when he followed the signs off the motorway.

He said:  “I got caught on my journey to the airport as I was unaware that the zone existed, but I made sure I wasn’t caught on my return trip – which was going to include a weekend in Bristol.

“This now will never happen and I will never use the airport again either. This is a personal choice of mine, but I will also be advising this to others.

“Obviously, your local authority wants to alienate potential tourists.”

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The upset holidaymaker told Bristol Live: “It looks to me like the people who set the zone purposely set the boundary to include this small section of road. I will not be visiting Bristol ever.”

The signs directing drivers to Bristol Airport on the M4, southbound M5 and southbound M49 tell motorists to exit at junction 18 for Avonmouth, and head southeast along the A4 Portway.

However, there are no signs on the motorway warning that this route to the airport includes a mile-long stretch that enters the Bristol Clean Air Zone on the Portway at the bottom of Bridge Valley Road and exits it at the Winterstoke Interchange on the south side of the river at Ashton Gate.

The first sign warning drivers that the Clean Air Zone is ahead is off the motorway and on the A4 Portway itself, and informs drivers that this zone is in ‘the city centre’.

Bristol Airport includes information and a map of the Clean Air Zone on its website with a warning that routes from the M4 and the M5 north will take drivers through the zone.

When the Clean Air Zone was launched, the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, included specific reference to access to Bristol Airport in his social media comments on the day.

He said: “The A369 and Winterstoke Road also offer an easy way of accessing South Bristol and the airport without entering the zone.” However, as reported in Bristol Live, there are no signs on the A4 Portway, or on the M5 indicating this, or advising drivers of non-compliant vehicles to remain on the M5 and exit at junction 19 for Gordano, to avoid the zone. 

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Bristol Live reports Bristol City Council asked National Highways, the Government agency that runs the motorway network, if signs could be installed on the M5 and M49 approaches to the Avonmouth junction, but says their requests were declined.

National Highways said the lack of Clean Air Zone signs on the M5 was a Department for Transport decision.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said that it has “not blocked the installation of signs directing drivers to Bristol’s Clean Air Zone”.

They said: “The Department for Transport and National Highways have jointly developed clear guidance on the appropriate use of signs in local areas. This advises against unnecessary sign clutter to ensure directions remain clear for drivers. In this case, Junction 18 of the M5 is several miles from the Clean Air Zone and signs are already appropriately placed on the A4 before the zone begins.”

They added: “Any changes to the number of signs on the strategic road network for Bristol’s Clean Air Zone will be a matter for the local authority to discuss jointly with National Highways. While air pollution across the country has reduced significantly since 2010, we know there is more to do. That is why we are investing £880 million to clean up transport and cut pollution.”

The Bristol Clean Air Zone was enforced on November 28, 2022, and it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It affects cars that do not meet emission standards and such cars can be checked at the following website.

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