The benefits of Low Emission Zones in relation to air quality in Scotland – John Bynorth

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On Sunday May 2nd, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists on a variety of different types of bikes were allowed on the Royal Mile and several other streets in Edinburgh city centre.

Tennis, choreographed dancing, hoopla sessions, tai chi, story-telling and other activities were organised as people reclaimed the streets after the City of Edinburgh Council closed them to traffic for the day.

It came after the Scottish capital joined the international ‘Open Streets’ movement that has seen Paris, New York and Bogota in Columbia promote family friendly atmospheres in car-free environments.

The 18-month pilot, which will see some of Edinburgh’s streets shut on the first Sunday of each month, was launched just before the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation Project, the City Mobility Plan to get residents more active, and Low Emission Zones were presented to councillors at a meeting in May.

There is clearly widespread support for Edinburgh to change its relationship with the car and efforts to improve air quality. Last year 75% of the 5,000 respondents to the Connecting Our City, Transforming Our Places consultation last year agreed that some form of restrictions for vehicles were necessary to improve air quality.

This gave a mandate for their ambitious Low Emission Zone plans, together with investment in cycling infrastructure, improved and lower or zero-emission buses and of course the electric vehicle charging infrastructure as Scotland approaches 2032 – where the ambition is to phase out the need for new petrol or diesel cars and vans.

The city council has launched a consultation exercise on plans for a city centre boundary zone and a second city wide boundary. However, residents will have four years to either trade in their older polluting diesel or petrol cars for a low emission model or ditch them altogether before they will be on the receiving end of fines for using them in the zone.

Within the city centre boundary, the grace period for buses, coaches and commercial vehicles would be until the end of 2021, and to the end of 2024 for cars. Buses, coaches and commercial vehicles will have until 2023 to comply with the city wide boundary however cars will not be affected.

Edinburgh has also floated the idea of regional travel hubs where transport hubs of goods deliveries on lorries from across the UK and Europe could be shipped into a central hub outside of the city and complete the rest of the journey by low emission or electric vehicle.

In Glasgow, where the Low Emission Zone began initially for 20% of buses in December 2018, Duncan Cameron, Operations Director for First Glasgow’s fleet, said the company is ‘well on its way’ to achieving the 2020 target of 40% compliance with the second phase of the scheme.

Duncan said 200 new low emission buses are already on the streets of Glasgow representing 38% of the fleet, with a further 75 buses ordered bringing benefits for passengers such as improved seating, disabled access, better wi-fi and air conditioning.

Glasgow City Council’s ‘City Ways’ dedicated cycle paths are encouraging people onto their bikes helping a surge in cycling ignited by the 2014 Commonwealth Games when road racing and mountain biking enthralled the crowds.

Glasgow and Edinburgh have created a ‘roadmap’ for the future of Scotland’s Low Emission Zones which will drive improvements in air quality and active travel creating cleaner, healthier cities for all.

John is Policy and Communications Officer at Environmental Protection Scotland, which is co-ordinating Clean Air Day on Thursday June 20th. To find an event near you visit