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Environmental Protection Scotland guest blog - John Bynorth

Scotland has come together to support Clean Air Day in a way that was unthinkable seven months ago.

From the Isle of Skye and Inverness in the Highlands, to Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh; scores of people, dozens of schools, charities, the private sector and other groups are supporting the campaign on October 8.

The campaign took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and showcased efforts by the Scottish Government and local authorities to make Scotland’s air quality the best in Europe through Low Emission Zones, active travel and support for ‘cleaner’ bus fleets and electric vehicles.

This all ties in with the Scottish Government’s ambition to reduce its share of Global Greenhouse Gas emissions to ‘net-zero’ by 2045.

Clean Air Day has traditionally been held mid-June since its launch as 2017, with major public events attended by hundreds of people in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.

But the COVID-19 pandemic forced organisers to shift the entire event to October and onto social media, with schools still participating in air quality and active travel activities from Edinburgh to Inverness, Stirling and Glasgow. There has been involvement from Dunbar Harbour Trust - which promoted a no idling message to visitors - to Transport Scotland, which supported Enterprise Car Club’s decision to make its EVs available for customers free of charge on Clean Air Day.

The campaign aims to encourage people to walk, cycle or scoot instead of using the car and to keep up some of the air quality improvements which emerged during the recent national lockdown that took place in March.

Clean Air Day tapped into the public’s enthusiasm for cycling and walking, which enjoyed a boost that is still being felt after rules around staying local forced people out to exercise during the national lockdown in March.

The £30 million provided by Transport Scotland’s ‘Spaces For People’ and administered by Sustrans Scotland to local authorities for temporary walking and cycling routes during the pandemic has made a difference across towns, with people feeling safer and more socially distant.

Cycling Scotland’s own data from its cycle counters across Scotland found there had been a 199% increase in cyclists passing one of the counters in Clyde Street in Glasgow between the start of lockdown in March and September. The charity recorded a 132% rise at its counter in Dunfermline, Fife, and a 128% rise in cyclists passing a roadside counter in Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire.

LEZ cities have been transformed for pedestrians and cyclists and 15 months after a street in George Square in Glasgow was sealed off to traffic for people to enjoy food at picnic tables on Clean Air Day, pub-goers could be seen enjoying a a drink on socially distanced benches laid out across a normally busy street overlooking the square.

The LEZ, initially for buses, the ‘nextbike’ bike hire scheme, The Avenues pedestrian/cycle schemes and bus-only streets to speed up our bus services, are all helping to push people out of their cars into active travel in Glasgow.

One week before Clean Air Day, the City Council announced the Parkhead Cross Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) has been revoked after nitrogen dioxide levels in the AQMA consistently met Scottish air quality objectives.

It followed the Scottish Government Programme for Government (PfG) announcement on 1 September that £500 million would be invested in active travel infrastructure across Scotland over the five years.

In a statement to mark Clean Air Day, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham said: “Reducing air pollution is vital to the health of our people and planet and here in Scotland, we want to make the air we breathe the cleanest in Europe.

“Leaving our cars at home and opting to walk or cycle instead is a simple way to reduce air pollution, keep fit and help Scotland reach its goal of ending our contribution to climate change by 2045.”

John Bynorth is Policy and Communications Officer at Environmental Protection Scotland (EPS). The charity coordinates Clean Air Day in Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Watch the EPS Clean Air Day video here