THE Capital is bidding to be the first city in Scotland to charge for entry to the worst-polluted roads.
Lorries, vans and buses – and possibly cars – which do not meet strict emission standards would be forced to pay tolls or be fined for driving inside Low Emission Zones (LEZ).
The move, which could also ban vehicles from certain areas, comes 12 years after Edinburgh residents voted in a referendum to reject a congestion charge for the city.
London has operated a LEZ for the past nine years and they are common throughout Europe.
The Scottish Government has said it will fund one pilot scheme by the end of next year. Glasgow has already made clear its interest in the idea and Friends of the Earth has said it is the frontrunner. But now Edinburgh – which has some of the worst-polluted streets in the country – is to make its own bid.
At the first full council meeting since the local elections, councillors yesterday agreed to approach the Scottish Government for talks.
Green councillor Chas Booth said Edinburgh needed to act quickly to be in with a chance.
He said: “This is an urgent issue. Our air quality is breaching legal limits at a number of places across the city and that is having an impact on our citizens.”
He said pollution caused around 2500 deaths each year across Scotland.
“It is clear traffic is the dominant cause of poor air quality, but we can take action,” he added.
The city centre is seen as the most likely area to be chosen as the focus of the LEZ, though it could extend as far as the top of Easter Road and to Nicolson Street to include particular hotspots.
St John’s Road in Corstorphine has been highlighted in the past as one of Scotland’s most-polluted streets and could perhaps be designated as a secondary LEZ.
Buses, lorries and vans are likely to be the first target of an LEZ. But Cllr Booth told the Evening News that cars might have to be included in the scheme as well.
He said: “Some of the evidence we have heard suggests most of the pollution is from lorries and buses, but in other cases cars make a significant contribution as well.”
One expert suggested that after a few years, the restrictions could be extended from HGVs, vans and buses to include taxis and the worst-polluting cars.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf has been quoted saying: “If there is a LEZ, you cannot be half-hearted about it. It could drastically reduce traffic.”
Edinburgh currently has six air-quality management areas, where pollution levels are excessive, including the city centre, Glasgow Road, St John’s Road, Great Junction Street, Inverleith Row and Salamander Street.
Glasgow has three such areas, but estimates suggest particulate pollution claims 306 lives a year in Glasgow compared with 205 in Edinburgh.
At yesterday’s council meeting, Conservative councillors voted against the call for urgent action to bid for an LEZ.
Transport spokesman Nick Cook said his group did not rule out an LEZ.
But he warned it could prove expensive, saying: “The transport minister has indicated number plate recognition would be required, which could be extremely costly.”
And he voiced fears that an LEZ could just mean traffic being displaced elsewhere within the city.
But environmental group Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the council’s move.
Director Dr Richard Dixon said: “It’s great to see Edinburgh keen to create a Low Emission Zone to protect people’s health from deadly traffic pollution.
“A majority of councillors in Glasgow also support a Low Emission Zone, so the Scottish Government now has two solid proposals to work with to create the first of these zones in Scotland.
“With its bigger death toll Glasgow is the frontrunner but this is a very serious offer from the Capital.
“With air pollution coming rapidly up the agenda, the Scottish Government needs to spell out how and when they will help councils create the second, third and subsequent LEZs.”
Last year, St John’s Road in Corstorphine was named the second most-polluted street in Scotland in terms of nitrogen dioxide after Glasgow’s Hope Street by Friends of the Earth.
Queensferry Road was second worst by particulate pollution, with Salamander Street a close third.
Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, urged caution over an LEZ, warning the charges could add extra costs to firms operating inside the zone.
He said: “We all want cleaner air and lower emissions is a laudable target the city should aim for. However, some careful thought is needed about the impact of an LEZ.
“Any business getting their wholesale materials delivered to them could face a premium charge from the suppliers because they have to use a special vehicle. And when they’re dispatching goods, are courier firms going to charge more too?
“Once LEZs become the norm around Britain it will be a different story, but there needs to be a proper consultation and careful thought about the knock-on effect.”
Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, gave a cautious welcome to the LEZ, plan but said its success would depend on the exact details of the scheme.
He said: “If it’s going to be in an area or streets with a known emissions problem and air quality issues, there is a case for an LEZ.
“The devil will be in the detail – like which vehicles are allowed in and which are not.
“If you’re trying to get rid of dirty old lorries and buses, dirty old cars should probably have a place in that as well, but it will be a question of how you define that and what the cut-off point is.
“We would like to see Edinburgh council using its existing powers for roadside emissions testing. They have these powers, but they have not used them. I think it’s a cost issue, but if you really want to target the most polluting vehicles, pull them over, test them and if they fail get them fixed.”
ROAD TOLLS SCHEME REJECTED
PROPOSALS for a £2-a-day congestion charge designed to cut traffic in the city were put to a vote of Capital residents in February 2005.
The proposal, put forward by the Labour administration in charge of the city council at the time, involved two cordons – one around the city centre and one just inside the city bypass – operating from Monday to Friday.
The inner cordon was going to apply from 7am to 6.30pm, while the outer one would operate from 7am to 10am.
Drivers would have been charged the £2 only once in any one day for driving into the city.
The money raised by the toll would have been dedicated to public transport initiatives and in particular another tram line to the south-east of the city, including the Royal Infirmary.
The Tories, Liberal Democrats and SNP on the council opposed the scheme.
And the road tolls plan was rejected by almost three to one.
The referendum, which was conducted by postal ballot, attracted a turnout of 61.7 per cent.
A total of 45,965 people (25.6 per cent) voted for the charge while 133,678 (74.4 per cent) voted against.