Edinburgh's Low Emission Zone 'thrown into chaos' after committee refuses to back scheme

Plans for a Low Emission Zone in the centre of Edinburgh have been thrown into confusion after the city's transport committee refused to approve the proposals.

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The scheme now looks set to be delayed after other opposition parties voted tactically for a Green amendment which called for a change to the boundary of the scheme and the two-year grace period before it was enforced.

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Tory group leader Iain Whyte predicted a revised plan might not come back to councillors for final consideration until after next year's council elections.

Map showing the boundaries of the proposed LEZ

And the SNP-Labour administration said they were assessing the situation and hoped to have a way forward as soon as possible.

The LEZ proposals, which were expected to be endorsed, involved a ban on all motorised vehicles which failed to meet strict emission standards from entering a 1.2 square mile area of the city centre. The ban would apply seven days a week all year round, but there would be a two-year grace period before enforcement began in June 2024.

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The vehicles caught by the ban would be diesel cars registered before September 2015 and petrol cars registered before January 2006, as well as HGVs and buses that do not meet the Euro VI emission requirements.

But critics said it was not ambitious enough and there was disappointment that an earlier plan for a second city-wide zone banning the worst-polluting buses and lorries had been dropped, meaning that pollution hotspots like Queensferry Road and St John’s Road, Corstorphine, were not covered by the LEZ.

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Transport convener Lesley Macinnes

In a written submission to the committee, Corstorphine Community Council warned it would lodge an official objection to the proposed LEZ because of the area’s exclusion.

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And at the committee all the opposition parties challenged aspects of the scheme and put forward their own amendments calling for changes.

The Conservatives argued the LEZ would be expensive and achieve little because improvements in vehicle technology meant air quality was getting better anyway. And they called for a study on how traffic and pollution would be displaced before the scheme was approved.

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The Greens said they were keen to see an LEZ but voiced concern that it concentrated only on a reduction of nitrous oxides emissions and not greenhouse gases.

And the Lib Dem amendment called for a city-wide zone to be drawn up which would include pollution hotspots like St John’s Road in Corstorphine and Queensferry Road.

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Transport convener Lesley Macinnes said the scheme was already having an effect even before it was introduced because people knew it was coming and were making changes accordingly.

She said it was not about stopping drivers coming into the city centre, but about improving public health. “The status quo is not acceptable.”

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When the committee came to vote at the end of their two-hour debate, there were five votes for the coalition motion to approve the scheme, three votes for the Tory amendment, two votes for the Green amendment and one vote for the Lib Dem amendment.

Because there was not an overall majority, the Lib Dem amendment fell.

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In the second round of voting, Lib Dem Kevin Lang backed the Greens' amendment, which meant the Tory and Green amendments had three votes each and councillor Macinnes had the casting vote to decide which one should go up against the coalition motion in the final vote.

She chose to let the Green amendment go forward but the Tories then voted for the Green amendment rather than abstain, ensuring the coalition was defeated by six votes to five.

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There was immediate speculation after the meeting that if the final vote had been between the coalition motion and the Tory amendment, the other two parties may well have decided to abstain and the motion could have passed.

Councillor Whyte said: “This throws the whole Low Emission Zone into chaos, as far as I can see."

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He noted the demand for changes to the boundary and the grace period.

"That's going to take months, I'd have thought,” he said.

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"They will have to come back with a new plan and, as I understand it, if you alter the boundary you have to go and consult again and that takes a few months.

"I think this has knocked out a Low Emission Zone final consideration until well after the election.

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"It was our votes that did it, but in a sense it was inept politics by the convener. We wanted a reconsideration of the scheme because it doesn't work – it's expensive and it won't deliver very much; the Greens were asking for a reconsideration in a different way, so there was nothing to object to for us in what they were asking; it was her own decision – and potentially her dislike of Conservatives in knocking out our amendment – that got her to that position.

Green councillor Claire Miller said her amendment pressed pause on the proposal until concerns around the boundary, grace period and coverage of greenhouse gases were dealt with.

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She said: “From day one Green councillors have championed the need for a low emission zone for our increasingly congested city. But it needs to be a zone that has the right ambition and the right targets. Sadly, today’s proposal was too small, too modest and failed to grasp the nettle of climate change.

“Given that the majority of members on committee agreed with me, it now falls on the council to come back with revised and more meaningful proposals as soon as possible to address the problems of air quality with greater ambition and the concerns that campaigners have rightly raised with us.

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“I am absolutely committed to rolling my sleeves up and being part of the dialogue to make that happen.”

Councillor Macinnes said: “We’re now assessing the outcome of the committee decision and hope to determine a way forward as quickly as possible.”

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