Health chiefs back plans for Edinburgh Low Emission Zone

Councillors in Edinburgh hope to secure funding to pay for a Low Emission Zone in the city. Picture: Scott Taylor

Councillors in Edinburgh hope to secure funding to pay for a Low Emission Zone in the city. Picture: Scott Taylor

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HEALTH chiefs have welcomed plans to tackle air pollution in the Capital by introducing Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ), saying “strong action” is needed to tackle the issue.

Last week councillors in Edinburgh agreed to approach the Scottish Government for talks on bringing in an LEZ as part of an ongoing effort to improve air quality across the city.

If implemented, the scheme would see lorries, vans and buses – and possibly eventually some cars – which do not meet emission standards face tolls and fines for driving within a designated city centre area.

Councillors in the Capital said Edinburgh should “take the lead” on the issue – and now the possibility of an LEZ has won the backing of leading figures from the health sphere. Professor David Newby, British Heart Foundation chair of cardiology at Edinburgh University, welcomed the move.

He said: “Air pollution has been linked and associated with a lot of ill health but in terms of cardiovascular disease it’s been associated with heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.

“Air pollution has both a long term chronic effect and a short term trigger effect so anything that reduces air pollution is likely to have health benefits.”

Prof Newby said a lot of air pollution, for example toxic particles found in car exhaust fumes, went largely unnoticed by the public on a day-to-day basis. He added: “I think people are often oblivious to these things.

“We do need to reduce emissions – it’s something we’ve been a bit slow on.”

It comes just days after a new study suggested air pollution could also be linked to a bad night’s sleep due to its effect on breathing and lung function.

Scientists at Washington University found people living in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide – traffic-related pollutant gas – during a period of five years had an almost 60 per cent chance of having worse sleep than those living in areas with lower levels.

Retired GP Dr Ian McKee, who practised in Wester Hailes and Sighthill, said an LEZ was a good idea in principle.

But he added: “The problem is it [air pollution] is something that you can’t really know has affected you.

“We had a lot of people with respiratory problems but some of that was to do with inadequate housing. You need central government action on diesel engines – a scheme whereby people can hand in their diesel cars, get reimbursement and get petrol ones.”

James Cant, director at British Heart Foundation Scotland, backed the LEZ idea, saying: “The evidence is clear – tackling air pollution needs to be a public health priority and we need strong action on this issue.

“Low emission zones are one way to encourage people to move away from more polluting vehicles and there is evidence that they can reduce air pollution.

“BHF Scotland welcomes evidence-based measures to tackle poor air quality. We’re also keen to work with the Scottish Government and local authorities to develop practical solutions.”

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk