Alison Johnstone: Time for action on air pollution

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It’s a constant struggle to highlight the issue of air pollution because it’s a problem that’s hard to see, yet it kills as many people in Britain each year as obesity and road accidents combined.

The UK Government is still going through the courts to resist EU legislation that should have been implemented years ago, while the Scottish Government passes the buck to local authorities and local authorities remain frightened to take the necessary steps.

In Edinburgh it’s clear we need to reduce the traffic coming in, and those vehicles that do come in should be cleaner.

It’s alarming to have more pollution zones set up and the boundaries of others extended. What an embarrassment to have tourism hot spots like the Cowgate and the Grassmarket added.

The legislation governing the issue is weak. The Environment Act 1995 doesn’t force local authorities to meet air quality targets – only to “pursue” them.

This has permeated the council’s thinking.

Its so-called action plan is about what it might do rather than what it will do: seminars and partnerships rather than tactics with budgets and timescales.

Businesses need deliveries but do we really need massive HGVs lumbering through our streets? On buses we have some cleaner vehicles but could do with proper funding from government to transform the fleet.

In Berlin, restrictions have cut pollution by a quarter within a year. Lower speed limits promote cycling and walking.

This has happened in Stockholm where most streets now have a 30kph limit – just 18mph.

And on parking how about incentives so that owners of cleaner cars pay less? This already happens with residential permits thanks to the Greens. Could we extend it to our shopping streets?

Three thousand Scots die each year from respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution. A problem that’s hard to see? I don’t think so.

• Alison Johnstone is Green MSP for Lothian