Did Edinburgh Council's SNP-Labour coalition just pull a fast one over low-emission zone? – John McLellan

For once, let me give Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition the benefit of the doubt; with a beautifully disguised political masterstroke, it has managed to avoid implementing a half-baked low-emission zone (LEZ) plan and can pin the blame on the opposition.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 28th October 2021, 4:55 am
A map showing the boundaries of Edinburgh's proposed low-emission zone
A map showing the boundaries of Edinburgh's proposed low-emission zone

How else are we to explain the cheery demeanour of city transport convener Lesley Macinnes as the coalition lost a crucial vote on Tuesday to send the scheme back to the drawing board?

How chipper she seemed as Conservatives and Lib Dems supported a Green amendment to defeat her administration, as officers watched on with furrowed brows as they realised their project would be put on hold for a reassessment of the boundaries and impact on the city’s greenhouse gasses.

How effusive was the convener’s tribute to departing Green councillor Gavin Corbett, who moments before had just voted to derail what was billed as one of the administration’s key policies.

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The problem with the LEZ plan is the council doesn’t know where the money will come from to fund it, hasn’t worked out what the impact will be on traffic just outside the city-centre zone and has hit significant opposition from community councils in the neighbouring areas who fear traffic will be displaced into their streets, like St John’s Road and Raeburn Place.

But did the convener spy an opportunity? In an 11-member committee on Tuesday, the five administration members were faced by amendments by the Conservatives and Greens, each supported by three votes against the SNP-Labour coalition’s five in support.

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With the casting vote on which of the two amendments would go to the final vote, Cllr Macinnes had attacked our motion with such, to use her word, venom that she could only support the Greens.

Maybe it was a fiendishly clever ploy to judge that if the Conservative amendment stood, the Greens and the sole Lib Dem would abstain and the coalition would have won, leaving it with the headache of implementing a scheme it couldn’t afford, would potentially make pollution worse around the zone’s periphery, and face the wrath of communities who’d bear the brunt.

The only flaw would be if we had not voted with the Greens, but their concerns were similar to ours, and anyway, surely the main opposition usually opposes?

The convener duly knocked out our amendment and my Conservative colleagues and I then voted with the Greens and the sole Lib Dem to defeat the coalition by 6-5. Bingo! Now the coalition can blame the opposition while breathing a private sigh of relief.

There is, of course, an alternative explanation, that Cllr Macinnes did indeed want the plan approved, but was so enraged by what she called our “astonishingly bad” amendment that she was boxed into a position where she couldn’t countenance the pragmatic option of letting the Conservative amendment go forward in the certainty of defeat.

Perhaps coalition councillors were so confident of victory they didn’t bother to calculate how the votes would play out, or the convener didn’t realise the implications of the Green amendment and was so blinded by outrage that she didn’t see the danger in her determination to slap us down.

I know which version I believe, but the LEZ will probably not re-emerge before the May election. Maybe that suits the administration just fine. But I doubt it.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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