Edinburgh's Low Emission Zone: environmentalists say city leaders must speed up move away from cars

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City leaders need to speed up moves to shift the balance away from cars and towards walking, cycling and public transport, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmental activists.

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Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it was "disappointing" the city council had not made any changes to beef up the Low Emission Zone proposals after they were sent back for revision.

And he said other measures, like the council's aim of a largely car-free city centre by 2030 and a 30 per cent reduction in kilometres travelled by car over the next decade, now required urgent action.

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There are only eight years between now and the net-zero target date of 2030.   Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.There are only eight years between now and the net-zero target date of 2030.   Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.
There are only eight years between now and the net-zero target date of 2030. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.

The council has set a target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Mr Thomson said: "We have very little time. We need to see some big ambitions from all parties in the council and big action too."

He said cars had to be "de-prioritised" and public spaces put to better use.

"The council needs to reject unsustainable developments like drive-thru coffee shops and residential developments that depend on cars."

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And he lamented the "toxic" debates around Spaces for People schemes.

"We need all our politicians to face up to the scale of the challenge

"The council is going in the right direction but not nearly quick enough.

"Moves to introduce cycle lanes and better pedestrian environments is great but we need much more of that."

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When opposition parties combined in October to force the SNP-Labour administration to look again at its LEZ scheme, Green councillors urged more emphasis on cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well as nitrogen dioxide.

But a report to Thursday's transport and environment committee says it is difficult to reduce CO2 emissions through LEZs.

And it adds: "Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be achieved by modal shift, introduction of alternative vehicle fuels (eg electric, hydrogen) or reducing the number of vehicle journeys using diesel/petrol."

Mr Thomson said: "It's disappointing the council hasn't offered anything else, but the analysis is probably correct that the LEZ needs to be paired with other measures to reduce more transport in the Capital."

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He said the 2030 target was just eight years away. "Most households have probably got one consumer decision in that time about the way they move around. They may buy one car, they might move to an electric vehicle, some families might decide to get rid of their car when it comes to the end of its life, if they feel the family can rely on walking, cycling and public transport to get around Edinburgh and maybe car-sharing for other journeys.

"People need to see what the city will look like and how it's going to be easier and safer to get around for a lot of journeys, especially short ones, without a car."

He said at the moment most people were probably not in a position to give up their car because public transport was insufficient, irregular or unreliable and many did not feel safe cycling or walking.

"We need to be moving very quickly towards an urban area where that's not the case and where public transport is rapid and viable and comprehensive.

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"We can only achieve that by reducing car use at the same time. The reliability and expense of our buses is intertwined with the dominance of cars."

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