Radical rethink for killer air

A car emitts carbon monoxide gas from its exhaust tailpipe, showing how pollution is formed.
A car emitts carbon monoxide gas from its exhaust tailpipe, showing how pollution is formed.
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“If something so lethal were more visible, it would have been at the top of our public health debate long before now,” says Alison Johnston. “I believe we are at a turning point as public awareness increases, and people will not tolerate being exposed to dangerous air as a result of political inaction.”

“If something so lethal were more visible, it would have been at the top of our public health debate long before now,” says Alison Johnston. “I believe we are at a turning point as public awareness increases, and people will not tolerate being exposed to dangerous air as a result of political inaction.”

She is in determined mood, as is her fellow Lothians MSP Andy Wightman, as they call on more action on Low Emission Zones.

“Public health has long been paid lip service by national and local government, with those who have the power and the budgets failing in their duty to make the air around our streets safe to breathe,” she continues.

“Constituents often write to highlight their fears over safety on our roads, including a young cyclist who’d had enough of being expected to travel with her child with exhaust fumes belching in their faces. Government figures suggest that more than 2,000 adults die every year in Scotland because of particulates in the atmosphere, primarily from vehicle emissions.

“This amounts to an estimated loss of over 22,000 ‘life years’ for adults alone. Treatment for avoidable illness and days off work are estimated to cost £20 billion across the UK. The main cause is pollution from road traffic, but increasing flight numbers from Edinburgh airport have huge implications for locals and the wider climate. To reduce the need for domestic and short-haul flights, we need a more efficient and affordable public transport network.”

Currently the Lothians has ten areas highlighted as places where public health is being harmed by vehicle emissions – six in Edinburgh along with those in Musselburgh, Broxburn, Linlithgow and Newton.

Holyrood’s Environment Committee questions whether councils can ensure planned LEZs are fully operational by the end of this year.

Johnston said: “Air pollution remains a silent killer for thousands of people in Scotland, and is clearly a problem in many parts of the Lothian region.

“Unless we can get to grips with dramatically increasing walking and cycling, delivering clean bus services and tackling car growth then we will continue to see a public health crisis.”

Wightman is equally damning: “Recent government commitments to deliver Low Emission Zones have come late and there is a danger local councils will struggle to implement them in time to meet 2020 legal targets, unless they are ambitious and include private cars. We have to make our urban areas attractive and pollution free zones where walking and cycling comes naturally. That means putting in place the right cycling infrastructure, reducing traffic speed and planning the growth of urban areas to reduce the need to travel.”

“We need a radical rethink of how to plan communities and how to travel. Successive governments have failed to take this issue seriously, but evidence is clear that investing in walking and cycling infrastructure and quality public transport delivers far greater public benefit than building new roads.

“Most European cities have increased pedestrian areas, and their roads include kerbed-off cycle lanes and clear routes for public transport. Planning policy can put an end to the dependence on out-of-town shopping, and support places people can live and work without long commutes. Authorities should also do more to support access to car-share services, which work well for occasional drivers.

“Recent government commitments to deliver LEZs have come late and there is a danger local councils will struggle to implement them in time to meet 2020 targets, unless they include private cars. It is vital that low emission zones don’t just mean moving dirty old buses to parts of the country that currently have better air quality.

“It is encouraging to see strong support for Green MSP Mark Ruskell’s bid to make 20mph the default speed limit, and we worked hard to get Edinburgh to introduce 20mph zones and invest in cycling and walking infrastructure. We know these policies work. They now need to be implemented on a bigger, bolder scale.”

She is in determined mood, as is her fellow Lothians MSP Andy Wightman, as they call on more action on Low Emission Zones.

“Public health has long been paid lip service by national and local government, with those who have the power and the budgets failing in their duty to make the air around our streets safe to breathe,” she continues.

“Constituents often write to highlight their fears over safety on our roads, including a young cyclist who’d had enough of being expected to travel with her child with exhaust fumes belching in their faces. Government figures suggest that more than 2,000 adults die every year in Scotland because of particulates in the atmosphere, primarily from vehicle emissions.

“This amounts to an estimated loss of over 22,000 ‘life years’ for adults alone. Treatment for avoidable illness and days off work are estimated to cost £20 billion across the UK. The main cause is pollution from road traffic, but increasing flight numbers from Edinburgh airport have huge implications for locals and the wider climate. To reduce the need for domestic and short-haul flights, we need a more efficient and affordable public transport network.”

Currently the Lothians has ten areas highlighted as places where public health is being harmed by vehicle emissions – six in Edinburgh along with those in Musselburgh, Broxburn, Linlithgow and Newton.

Holyrood’s Environment Committee questions whether councils can ensure planned LEZs are fully operational by the end of this year.

Johnston said: “Air pollution remains a silent killer for thousands of people in Scotland, and is clearly a problem in many parts of the Lothian region.

“Unless we can get to grips with dramatically increasing walking and cycling, delivering clean bus services and tackling car growth then we will continue to see a public health crisis.”

Wightman is equally damning: “Recent government commitments to deliver Low Emission Zones have come late and there is a danger local councils will struggle to implement them in time to meet 2020 legal targets, unless they are ambitious and include private cars. We have to make our urban areas attractive and pollution free zones where walking and cycling comes naturally. That means putting in place the right cycling infrastructure, reducing traffic speed and planning the growth of urban areas to reduce the need to travel.”

“We need a radical rethink of how to plan communities and how to travel. Successive governments have failed to take this issue seriously, but evidence is clear that investing in walking and cycling infrastructure and quality public transport delivers far greater public benefit than building new roads.

“Most European cities have increased pedestrian areas, and their roads include kerbed-off cycle lanes and clear routes for public transport. Planning policy can put an end to the dependence on out-of-town shopping, and support places people can live and work without long commutes. Authorities should also do more to support access to car-share services, which work well for occasional drivers.

“Recent government commitments to deliver LEZs have come late and there is a danger local councils will struggle to implement them in time to meet 2020 targets, unless they include private cars. It is vital that low emission zones don’t just mean moving dirty old buses to parts of the country that currently have better air quality.

“It is encouraging to see strong support for Green MSP Mark Ruskell’s bid to make 20mph the default speed limit, and we worked hard to get Edinburgh to introduce 20mph zones and invest in cycling and walking infrastructure. We know these policies work. They now need to be implemented on a bigger, bolder scale.”