Thousands will be fuming at Edinburgh low emission zone plan - John McLellan

Full disclosure: our family car is a 2014 1.6 diesel VW Passat which we bought because the emissions were apparently low and the mileage very good. Even after the emissions cheating scandal broke, the subsequent tests showed it was a pretty clean beast.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 7:00 am
The new rules are slated to come in from 2024

Not being a petrol-head I was quite happy with something reliable to get from A to B, but as of 2024 it now appears that if B is on the other side of the city centre then a circuitous route will be needed to avoid new low emission zone (LEZ) now in Edinburgh Council’s pipeline, and the £60 fine a breach will entail.

That car is one of the 16,000 the council estimates are non-compliant, but as we also have a 2009 petrol Corsa run-around which is ok despite being four years older and I cycle to most places we’re not going to be stuck.

But for people on low incomes relying on one vehicle which is non-compliant, the limited help to fund a replacement won’t meet the full cost and that means hundreds of people facing a purchase for which they will not have planned, adding loan repayments to the household bills.

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I doubt many will be glad they can claim a government voucher to part-fund a new electric cargo bike, as they are being encouraged to do.

But let’s pretend this is not about an anti-car agenda and only about air quality, and it’s true that if successful levels of pollution in the city centre should fall. The problem is how it will be achieved.

The biggest car parks on Castle Street and the St James Quarter are inside the zone, so in the equally dense streets immediately surrounding the LEZ, pollution levels could rise as drivers of non-compliant cars hunt fewer and fewer parking places as the controlled parking zones spread out.

So let’s assume they give up and don’t drive into town. Job done, except that it now appears from a whistle-blower that modern vehicles thought to be clean actually fail the tests when driven at the low speeds because the converters which turn damaging nitrous oxide into nitrogen and oxygen don’t get hot enough.

It means the most up-to-date Euro 6 standard bus idling at a stance, or crawling along in a Princes Street convoy, is actually be belching out fumes like an old jalopy.

There is therefore a real chance that either pollution levels don’t fall, or the city centre becomes a no-go zone for all vehicles until the technology improves, and that means more cost for a bus company already on its knees.

The latest scheme is supposed to work with the city mobility plan and the city centre transformation project, and it should be remembered that removing buses is as much a part of the grand redesign as a car ban.

A limitation on buses and private vehicles might be good news for the taxi trade, but the implications for city centre businesses with a very uncertain future are serious. And city centre residents better get used to the idea of active travel if they want to go anywhere which isn’t on the tram line.

Today the council’s transport and environment committee will approve a consultation into the proposals, and it will be in everyone’s interests to participate. I have a feeling I know what 16,000 non-compliant car owners might have to say.