Environmental groups have described a plan to improve air quality as a "missed opportunity"
Leading environment and health charities have spoken out against the Scottish Government’s plan for cleaner air describing it as a “huge missed opportunity”.
The Cleaner Air for Scotland plan was published by the Scottish Government in October 2020, attempting to set out a plan for reducing levels of harmful air pollution.
With the public consultation on the plan set to end next week, Friends of the Earth Scotland, British Lung Foundation and British Heart Foundation, have raised concerns about the effectiveness of measures included and question how much of an impact the plan will have.
They have said:
• Air quality in Scotland has been breaching legal limits since 2010.
• The strategy contains very few measures to reduce pollution from vehicles.
• Many recommendations from an independent review of the government’s work on air quality - such as ending trunk road expansion and increasing the funding for walking and cycling - have not been taken forward.
When the plan was unveiled, environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the plan could ensure Scotland has the cleanest air in Europe.
“The proposals set out in this strategy are essential if we are to ensure Scotland has the best air quality in Europe,” she said.
“Since our original Cleaner Air For Scotland strategy was published five years ago, we have introduced some of the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world, published our Environment Strategy, updated our National Transport Strategy with an emphasis on greener travel and began the introduction of Low Emission Zones.”
The plan includes taking forward potential measures to control the supply of the most polluting domestic fuels, including wet wood and house coal; work with the agriculture sector to develop a voluntary code of good practice to help reduce emission of air pollutants; and a continued shift to more sustainable transport modes.
However campaigners have said action must go further to ensure air quality improves.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said: “The Scottish Government needs to listen to the many voices calling for genuine action that will cut air pollution. To achieve clean air across Scotland, we need to see firm proposals, rather than just warm words. As it stands, this strategy is a huge missed opportunity.
"For example, an independent review recommended doubling the budget for walking and cycling; but instead the plan published by the Government announces active travel spending will remain the same for five years - a real terms cut, year-on-year.
“Transport is Scotland’s most polluting sector in terms of climate emissions. By committing to the action that will allow more people to safely walk, cycle and use public transport we can cut emissions and deliver benefits for public health and connectivity.”
Joseph Carter, head of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Scotland, said: “It is unacceptable that Scotland's air quality continues to breach legal limits. It's clear that high pollution levels have detrimental outcomes for people with lung conditions, as 90% of people we support struggle to breathe during these episodes.
“As it stands the plan does not go far enough to reduce the serious damage caused by poor air quality. The Scottish Government must make it a priority to build a more robust Clean Air Plan that protects our nation’s lung health.”
British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland’s senior policy and public affairs manager, David McColgan, said: “In Scotland, public exposure to air pollution is most likely to come from traffic sources. The priority for the Scottish Government must be to reduce traffic in the most polluted areas. This will have a beneficial impact on heart and circulatory diseases in Scotland, ultimately saving lives and reducing pressure on the NHS.
“The Cleaner Air for Scotland plan offers an opportunity to do this and we would urge the Scottish Government to take bold steps and to go further in tackling traffic and other harmful sources of pollution.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We absolutely recognise the importance of clean air – and the serious damage poor air quality can cause. That’s why we are taking bold action across the board to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants.
“Since our original Cleaner Air For Scotland strategy was published five years ago, we have introduced the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world, published our Environment Strategy, updated our National Transport Strategy with an emphasis on greener travel and have begun the introduction of Low Emission Zones in Scotland.
“Our recent Programme For Government committed over £500 million for large-scale active travel infrastructure projects and, as part of our Climate Change Plan update we have committed to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans and reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030.”