Edinburgh council wants your view on low-emission zone plans. Make sure to give it to them! – John McLellan

Most people may be in favour of reducing air pollution but they could disagree with some of the details of Edinburgh's planned low-emission zone (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Most people may be in favour of reducing air pollution but they could disagree with some of the details of Edinburgh's planned low-emission zone (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Most people may be in favour of reducing air pollution but they could disagree with some of the details of Edinburgh's planned low-emission zone (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Have your say on Edinburgh’s low-emission zones, said an upbeat council press release this week. “Feedback will help inform a finalised LEZ,” it added encouragingly.

It is the point of any consultation to help the consulting know what the consultees think, so plans can be adjusted accordingly, and before Edinburgh Council introduces low-emission zones it’s good practice to ask citizens what they think about a scheme with far-reaching consequences.

The 12-week exercise aims to give context for a report to the transport and environment committee in autumn, before introducing the scheme to eliminate the most-polluting vehicles from the city centre next year. Driving a non-compliant vehicle into the zone will incur a £60 fine from 2024.

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A broad consultation in 2019 reached the startling conclusion that most people preferred clean air to an alternative which might give them asthma, Alzheimer’s disease or a heart attack; the latest phase is to find out what the public thinks about the details.

The main impact is on people with older vehicles ─ pre-2015 diesels and petrol cars over 12 years old ─ and the hardest hit will be poorer people who can least afford to change them and it would be expected that people in this category would want to make their views known.

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Campaign groups normally get themselves organised so if enough people respond in the same way then weight of numbers will win the day, but if people don’t trust the process or think it’s pointless they will be less likely to participate.

Sadly, the credibility of council engagement has been tarnished by its reaction to the Spaces for People consultation, commissioning further market research as overwhelming opposition to some schemes in over 17,000 responses became clear, a wrangle which continues to fill councillor in-boxes.

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Serious concerns remain about how the research was gathered, handled and applied, and a lot of time and public money could have been saved by accepting the consultation outcome, but instead it has created mistrust and could yet result in a Scottish Information Commissioner investigation.

It looked like the council was trying to find other ways to validate its policies because the public consultation didn’t produce the result it wanted, but the problem with Spaces for People was the schemes were there for locals to experience and criticise. The response to opposition was to reassert principle over practicality.

So with the administration’s stated desire to rid the city centre of as many cars as possible, critics of the LEZ proposal might presume minds are already made up and not bother participating.

While understandable, it would be a mistake because staying silent is the easiest way to ensure concerns are brushed aside. The active travel lobby will make sure its voice is heard, and there are similar big consultations to come.

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One on the 2030 climate strategy opened last month, and the outcome could be used to justify a host of unaffordable and unpopular policies involving domestic central heating and insulation. Another involving plans for West Edinburgh will probably focus opposition to further development.

It’s a serious misjudgement to use 600 survey answers to rebut thousands of detailed local objections to road changes, and wiser heads should have intervened, but at least the results were not hushed up. “Have your say” only works if someone is listening.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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