Campaigners say 18-month delay poses risk to public health
The Scottish Government has been accused of not taking air pollution seriously after confirming delays to its Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) plans.
Ministers first proposed the zones in 2017, with plans for them to be operating in Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen by the end of 2020.
However, the proposals were put on ice after the coronavirus pandemic struck. Now it has been revealed that the LEZs will be introduced between February and May 2022 – 18 months later than planned.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was “gravely concerned” over the announcement. Research has shown around 2,500 people in Scotland die each year from air pollution, and there is growing evidence linking high levels of pollution and vulnerability to the coronavirus.
The environmental charity says that delaying the plans is not only a public health risk, but also jeopardises Scotland’s likelihood of meeting its climate commitments on both a local and national level.
Director, Dr Richard Dixon, said: “This shocking delay shows that Scottish Government and councils are not serious about urgent action on air pollution. Everyone understands that the pandemic has delayed action in many areas but people in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh are now expected to wait more than a year longer for just the first steps in cleaning up the air they breathe. In Glasgow plans to tighten up the standards for buses and to extend the zone to cover other vehicles are also delayed.
“Today’s announcement isn’t even a firm commitment, just a promise to try to meet the extended deadline. Next week’s Programme for Government must address the inadequacy of Low Emission Zones in light of this latest setback, and the increased need to fix air pollution. These changes mean the timetable for future tightening of the zones is under threat. The date by which cars will be included must not be allowed to slip further and councils should think about expanding the zones to protect more people."
Dixon said Scottish cities were “years behind” legal deadlines to clean up their air, meaning thousands of Scots continued to suffer from the effects of toxic fumes.
He added: “The Scottish Government has also failed to bring forward a plan or any funding for eventually improving these to Zero Emissions Zones, as pledged in 2019. The longstanding need to take action on air pollution to improve public health has only been heightened by this crisis. Equally, the current shutdown has exposed the need to reform our transport system and highlighted the fact that so much public space is dominated by polluting cars.”
Transport secretary Michael Matheson claimed the government was committed to introducing the LEZs “as quickly as possible”.
He added: “With the indicative timeline now established, planning continues at a local authority level and the Scottish Government will continue to develop the required regulations as well as providing funding to help people and businesses prepare.”