Edinburgh' Low Emission Zone approved by councillors - but it could get even tougher soon
Councillors have given the go-ahead to a Low Emission Zone for Edinburgh, banning vehicles from the city centre if they exceed strict emission limits – but even tougher restrictions could be on the way soon.
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Transport convener Lesley Macinnes accepted a Green call for a requirement to look at changing the rules when new official Euro standards on emissions are agreed.
And Green councillor Claire Miller said the scheme which now goes forward to a 28-day period for objections and eventual Scottish Government approval, was “just version one”.
The council aims to introduce the LEZ in May this year, covering a 1.2 square mile area of the city centre and affecting around 20,000 vehicles in and around the Capital – diesel cars registered before September 2015 and petrol cars registered before January 2006 – as well as heavy goods vehicles and buses that do not meet the Euro VI emission requirements. But a two-year grace period means the ban will not enforced until June 2024.
In October the Greens won the backing of other opposition parties to defeat the SNP-Labour administration and send the LEZ proposals back for revision. But the plans which were brought back, and have now been passed, were unchanged because the Greens had called for the boundaries and grace period to be re-examined in the light of consultation feedback on greenhouse gas emissions, which are not given the same priority as reducing nitrogen dioxide and particulate emissions.
The committee heard that only around 18 people, about one per cent of respondents, had commented on greenhouse gases and there was no justification for making changes based on feedback.
Councillor Macinnes said they had met the terms of the Green amendment. “The fact the report shows no change was required is not in itself a negative thing. It indicates we have gone through a further stage of scrutiny, a further stage of understanding the science behind it and it takes us back to the same position.”
She said the LEZ had to be based on evidence and fit with the national framework set by the Scottish Government. She had originally thought the idea of a city-wide zone was “an absolute no-brainer”. “But the evidence came back and said the one that works is the city-centre one.”
And she insisted the whole city would still benefit. “We know bus fleets will improve wherever they're operating in the city, we know freight fleets are likely to have the same impact, so this is something that will deliver not only for the city centre but much more widely as well.”
Councillor Miller backed the LEZ, saying it would have a measurable impact on air quality.
She said: “Although the current LEZ rules are disappointing in terms of carbon emissions we are keen to agree that when new Euro standards come into force in the future we pick up on those straight away and begin work immediately to evaluate how the LEZ can be adapted. Our view of the LEZ is that the scheme that's agreed and implemented at the outset is just Version 1 and that when new standards come into play we should check whether changes should be made to the zone.”
Tory group leader Iain Whyte claimed the scheme was “inappropriate, expensive and will do very little for its stated aims”.
He said: “The LEZ will become redundant in a few years time as air quality improvements overtake it as the fleet of vehicles on the road changes.”
In a swipe at the Greens he said: “It's for others to explain why they may have chosen to change their mind over what seemed to be a principled stand at that time.”
And he complained the Scottish Government was pushing the cost of the scheme onto councils while clean-air schemes in England were self-financing.
Lib Dem Kevin Lang repeated his concern that the LEZ did not include some of the worst-polluted streets in Scotland, like St John’s Road, Corstorphine.
The scheme was “too timid in its ambition and too slow in its implementation”.
And he also attacked the Greens for voting with the administration. “I was proud to vote alongside them in taking a firm line to try and get the most ambitious LEZ we could. It has taken us five years to get to this point. Who knows when we’ll have the chance to have a look at this again? I think it’s a great shame the Green group are caving in on this.”