Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone ‘not perfect’ but ‘will save lives’

Monday May 30th 2022


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Curbs on the most polluting vehicles driving into Edinburgh city centre will be officially introduced from tomorrow but nothing will change for the next two years.

The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) is being launched as part of efforts to reduce pollution rates in the capital and encourage more people to use public transport.

Critics say it doesn’t go far enough and will simply drive polluting traffic into other parts of the city, while residents argue it could actually encourage people to drive further in order to skirt around the zone.

A two year grace period means no fines will be issued until June 2024, which the council said is to give people time to prepare. Numberplate recognition cameras that will be used to identify offending motorists are yet to be installed and a council spokesperson said roadside signage, alongside ‘local on-street and digital promotion’, will spread awareness in advance of enforcement commencing.

Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment convener, Scott Arthur, said the scheme will “save lives” but admitted it is “not perfect” in its current form.

Motorists driving diesel cars registered before September 2015 and petrol cars registered before January 2006, as well as HGVs and buses that do not meet ‘Euro 6’ emissions standards, will eventually be fined £60 for entering the zone (reduced to £30 if paid in a month). Exemptions will be made for vehicles driven by blue badge holders.

The agreed boundary comprises the West End, Queen Street and the New Town, Greenside at the top of Leith Walk, Abbeyhill on the east, Pleasance, the Meadows and Tollcross.

In an open letter to the council last year, 144 health professionals working in Edinburgh called for ‘decisive action to promote active travel and reduce private car traffic in Edinburgh will help to reduce air pollution and associated harm to health’.

They highlighted “concerning levels of air pollution related to vehicular traffic” had been recorded at the city’s Air Quality Management Areas.

And whilst there is widespread support for new measures to drive down carbon emissions, the council has been accused of not going far enough fast enough, with many of Edinburgh’s most-polluted streets not covered by the LEZ.

Communities have also voiced concerns that the scheme, once complied with, will only displace traffic and emissions to roads that skirt the zone and beyond.

The Edinburgh Association of Community Councils, which represents the views of 44 such groups, said the LEZ “only benefits the city centre”.

“The streets in the suburban communities have had the highest level of emissions with the consequent detrimental effect on public health,” it argued, adding: “Perversely it is the residents in these communities which will see no benefit from the proposed Edinburgh LEZ.”

Similarly, New Town and Broughton Community Council said plans “give no recognition of the risks to pedestrians from vehicular emissions in areas outside of the LEZ”.

The group also flagged the risk of vehicles ‘rat running’ around Calton Hill and called for Regent Road, and some West End streets, to be included in a revised boundary to avoid this.

However, the City of Edinburgh Council insisted the scheme “will help reduce pollution across the whole city, not only within the zone”.

The council’s new Transport and Environment convener Scott Arthur said the next two years will be treated as a “transition period”.

He said: “Over that period as well, what we have to look for and manage is any unintended consequences. A big part of that might be displacement of traffic activity so we have to be very wary of that.”

Councillor Arthur, who entered the administration role only last week, admitted the LEZ is “not perfect”, describing it as a ‘blunt tool that focuses on the age of vehicles rather than emissions’.

But he added: “What we’ve got is a reasonable compromise and it will save lives, so it’s worth going forward with and it’ll be under continual review particularly over the next two years and I think over time we’ll get something that meets Edinburgh’s needs.”

Asked if the zone has potential to be expanded under the council’s new minority Labour administration, Cllr Arthur replied: “Over the next five years what we really have to do is look to see if it’s working, and I think it will, and what the knock-on impacts are and what we can learn from it. If a case can be made for protecting other areas then absolutely – but what I don’t want to do is commit to a lot of things just now when we don’t really know what impact this is going to have.”

Ahead of the introduction of the Low Emission Zone on Tuesday, we asked residents in Edinburgh to give their views.

Rob McGregor: “It’s such a shame that the zone isn’t much larger and is delayed until 2024 for real implementation. Hopefully the new Labour Administration can work to extend the zone and push other measures like school streets, lower traffic neighbourhoods, a circulation plan and a congestion charge to tackle the impact of traffic on lungs, lives and planet. Cities that do this are often wary of changes, but never look back once the realise the benefits to health, businesses and planet.”

Charlotte Maddix: “Our family car won’t be allowed into the city centre when they finally start enforcing the LEZ. We may be eligible for a blue badge by then for a child with mobility issues, but we’ll still not be driving our car into the city centre. I wish the LEZ was bigger. I also wish we had proper congestion charging so we can reduce the number of vehicles in the city centre. Then it’ll be even easier for families to access the facilities in the centre by foot, bus or bike.”

Mick Watson: “It’s an awful policy. It will simply make people drive further to avoid the LEZ creating more emissions. It will affect the poorer driver who own older cars and will need to upgrade whilst richer drivers will be fine. The council are not investing in EV infrastructure that would make emissions zero (i e. They don’t care about emissions). Overall a disaster.”

Ewen Maclean: “We have an older van which we try to keep alive. It won’t be LEZ exempt. We won’t be able to drive into town. Excellent. Quite right too – we have no place doing so. Extend the LEZ further. We’ll do active travel and public transport into town and be very pleased of less traffic.”

Scott Dixon: “The problem really is that this is just part of a war of attrition on motorists in light of a congestion charge being rejected a few years ago. I have come to accept that it’s impossible to drive around Edinburgh anyway so I don’t bother.”

David Siska: “Our car (old diesel estate) will be banned from the LEZ. I don’t mind we only drive to go out of town. But I don’t see why the introduction is delayed for further 2 years. Also the LEZ needs to be bigger eg include the whole Holyrood park.”

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