Edinburgh's air pollution can be deadly. That's why we need to talk about a low-emission zone – Lesley Macinnes
Every year there are around 200 premature deaths due to air pollution in Edinburgh. Dirty air is clearly linked to childhood and adult asthma, heart disease and dementia.
It’s not something any of us want to think about as we go about our daily business but thankfully it is what the Scottish Government and the council have been thinking about for some time.
The four main Scottish cities have been challenged to introduce low-emission zones (LEZ) to reduce the number of polluting vehicles moving around our cities and to improve our air quality – with all the positive results that go with this change. We can reduce the negative health impacts on the children of our city, on the elderly and the vulnerable, and to reduce the impact of certain diseases on the NHS.
We’ve just opened a council consultation to gather Edinburgh residents’ views on the proposed city centre boundary, the two-year grace period before fines are levied, and on local exemptions for groups such as disabled drivers and emergency services. There’s a lot of detailed information in the consultation. It’s well worth looking at the council website to see exactly what’s being discussed and to see how you can contribute your thoughts.
The proposals we’re consulting on are the result of highly detailed work by our council officers, alongside technical experts from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Transport Scotland, as well as previous consultations about an LEZ.
We’ve had to establish scientific evidence to show us where the boundary should be and how the whole city can benefit from cleaner vehicles in the city centre. Experience from other cities tells us that a city centre LEZ boundary is not expected to cause general displacement or worsening of air pollution elsewhere, although there may be some short-lived localised impacts. We’re already finding ways to ensure the traffic network across the city functions effectively to reduce any possible impacts.
To help those families and small businesses that may have to change their vehicles before June 2024, when the grace period is likely to end, government funding is available to either change a vehicle or to switch, where possible, to other means of getting around.
Households living within 20km of a planned LEZ and who receive specific means-tested benefits could get a £2000 grant to help them replace a non-compliant vehicle or a further £1000 Travel Better voucher for sustainable transport alternatives, such as bus passes, bike purchases, train tickets and car club membership. Small businesses can claim a £2500 cash grant to help them get rid of non-compliant vehicles and help of up to 80 per cent on retrofitting cleaner engines.
There will always be those who complain that we are going too far, or not far enough, but we’ve built the detailed evidence to support this positive change to the city. Now we need your informed views.
Please read the proposals on the council website and tell us what you think through the consultation. As a council we’re responsible for action to stop so many Edinburgh children coughing or the vulnerable being badly affected by air pollution. Please help us shape this positive action – for all our sakes.
Lesley Macinnes is Edinburgh Council’s transport and environment convener and SNP councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton