Edinburgh's Low Emission Zone: FoE Scotland say it's too small and will only benefit wealthy residents and tourists

Environment campaigners have launched an attack on Edinburgh’s proposed Low Emission Zone, claiming it covers a “tiny” area and will only protect the health of wealthy residents and tourists.

Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 8:57 am

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Under the scheme, all motorised vehicles which fail to meet strict emission standards will be banned from 1.2 square mile area of the city centre. Plans for a second city-wide zone excluding non-compliant lorries and buses have bee dropped. The zone is due to be introduced in May 2022 but will only be enforced from June 2024.

Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, said they were disappointed with the plan.

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St John's Road in Corstorphine - no included in the LEZ - is one of the most polluted streets in Scotland

He said: “The LEZ won’t do even what it is supposed to do, which is improve the air quality and make sure Edinburgh doesn't break legal limits for air pollution. The committee papers even acknowledge that.

“We have had a continual downgrading of the proposed LEZ for Edinburgh over the couple of years it has been developed. Now we've just got this tiny zone around the Royal Mile and a portion of the Old Town.

“By the time it comes into force in June 2024 the number of vehicles it will restrict which are still on the road will be tiny because they'll be very old by then.

“So we've got a tiny zone restricting a tiny number of vehicles. Meanwhile, across the rest of city, not least St John's Road in Corstorphine and a lot of the west side of Edinburgh, we will still have high levels of air pollution.”

Map showing the area covered by the Low Emission Zone

He said the zone ought to cover a much bigger area.

“The Low Emission Zone is a low ambition zone. If it was much bigger, more people would be protected from the most-polluting vehicles and we would have better air quality across a bigger part of the city.

“It's important to remember this is a public health measure, so the question is how many people are we going to protect. and the answer from this is not that many.

“It's wealthy residents and tourists who are going to have their health protected by this LEZ. It won't protect the majority of people's health.”

Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, said the LEZ was a huge opportunity to help reduce traffic, clean up the air and enable people to walk and cycle more, but bold action was needed to get to net zero.

“The current proposals exclude many areas of the city where a large concentration of people live, work and go to school – for whom this could make a real difference. By increasing the boundaries of the LEZ, more people across Edinburgh stand to benefit from cleaner air and safer streets.”

However, Murray Fleming, general secretary of the Scottish Taxi Federation, said the plans were reasonable and welcomed the two-year grace period until 2024.

“That gives the trade sufficient time to make the necessary changes to the fleet, which are quite costly. However, I think it allows enough time for the investment to be made. A lot of guys have known this was on the horizon and have already made the change.”

And Lothian Buses said it was fully prepared for the LEZ, with all its fleet scheduled to be fully compliant before the end of 2021.

A spokesperson said: “Since 2011, Lothian has invested over £78 million in our fleet ensuring we always provide for the ever changing needs of our customers and to the benefit of the local environment.

“Our continued investment in low emission buses, combined with our on-going fleet replacement strategy, ensures that we as a business are driving air quality change and customer experience across our city.”

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Transport convener Lesley Macinnes said the LEZ proposal came after a lot of work on modelling scenarios and analysing data.

"We’re confident it will strike the balance of improving air quality, with a predicted 55 per cent reduction in harmful NO2 emissions in the zone, creating a healthier and more liveable city while taking into account any impact on the people that live here.

“Far from protecting only a select few, our city-centre boundary is expected to have a significant effect on reducing air pollution in one of the most densely populated parts of Edinburgh. And we anticipate the benefits to be spread outside the boundary when onward journeys are made.”

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