Edinburgh Council's LEZ plans 'giving tourists cleaner air than residents'

TRANSPORT chiefs have been accused of creating a “two-tier” Capital where tourists will breathe cleaner air than residents under proposals to tackle air pollution.

Friday, 19th July 2019, 10:59 am
Drivers have been warned they will have five years to scrap out of date cars to avoid hefty fines under draft proposals for a two-tier Low Emission Zone. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Drivers have been warned they will have five years to scrap out of date cars to avoid hefty fines under draft proposals for a two-tier Low Emission Zone. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

Environmental campaigners have blasted draft plans by the city council to establish a low emission zone (LEZ) in Edinburgh, as required by the Scottish Government.

The council’s city centre LEZ proposals, which exclude Queen Street, Holyrood Road, Melville Drive and Haymarket, would lead to all vehicles that don’t meet emission standards facing hefty fines for entering the zone. But as the plans stand, cars will have until 2024 and possibly 2025 to meet standards – while buses and commercial vehicles will need to be upgraded by 2021.

A citywide LEZ, which under draft proposals does not include cars, will give buses and commercial vehicles until 2023 to comply with before fines are issued.

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A proposed map of the city centre LEZ, which will not include cars, Picture: Edinburgh Council

Studies have found that around 80 per cent of nitrogen oxide concentrations are directly attributed to traffic emissions – while air pollution causes 200 early deaths each year in Edinburgh.

Gavin Thomson, air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The two-tier plans could mean tourists and shoppers will be breathing cleaner air in the city centre while people in residential areas could experience more traffic and air pollution as vehicles avoid the tiny city centre zone.

“Everyone in Edinburgh has a right to breathe safe air now, yet these plans will only begin to clear the air in one part of the city. Seemingly, the council decided that some people in Edinburgh are more worthy of protection from air pollution than others.”

He added: “This lacklustre zone has been designed to achieve the bare legal minimum on diesel pollution, an objective which should have been met back in 2010.

Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson

“The council has opted for the slowest possible lead-in times, meaning that it will be six years before any restrictions are applied to cars. It looks like they have prioritised not upsetting car owners above improving tackling dirty air to the benefit of all Edinburgh’s people.”

Edinburgh currently has six council designated air pollution zones, where air quality standards are not met. In addition, Friends of the Earth Scotland revealed four locations across the city with illegal pollution levels in 2018.

Green Cllr Gavin Corbett said: “The city urgently needs to get on the front foot on air pollution. However, that LEZ needs to be meaningful and some of the issues about what is in and out of scope for the city centre, such as the exclusion of very busy areas like Queen Street and Haymarket, is down to the proposal not to include cars in the wider city zone.

“The council still has a job to do to convince natural supporters that the right balance has been struck, but I look forward to those discussions and to seeing a LEZ come into force, alongside other plans to dramatically cut traffic in our congested city.”

Members of the public have until Sunday (21) to share their views on the LEZ plans. More than 2,000 people have registered their views since the councillaunched the consultation in June.

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said: “Our low emission zone proposals have been developed following a great deal of analysis and modelling in close partnership with SEPA and Transport Scotland and are crucial to addressing poor air quality in Edinburgh and the significant risk it poses to human health. We've already had a fantastic, positive response to our consultation on these proposals.

"Plans for a city centre boundary aim to tackle the worst concentrations of air pollution in a densely populated area with the highest incidence of visitors and commuters while, on a wider scale, the city wide boundary will tackle the impact of vehicles that tend to make multiple trips and are responsible for the highest levels of pollution - buses and commercial vehicles make up two thirds of harmful emissions.

"Proposed grace periods will allow drivers to adapt to vital changes. We are also, of course, focusing on a wider range of highly ambitious projects alongside the development of an LEZ. These are designed to improve active travel facilities and public transport access, including the city centre transformation and the city mobility plan. This is part of our wider commitment to create modal shift amongst the public, making active travel and trips by public transport easy and attractive as an alternative to the car. The LEZ is designed to tackle established air pollution problems, not to achieve traffic reduction."

To take part in the consultation, visit consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk