Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone, a step closer - Councillor Lesley MacInnes Transport and Environment Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council
I’m lucky to call Scotland’s beautiful capital city my home. Despite our unique historical, architectural character, standing astride an extinct volcano, Edinburgh faces the same threat from air pollution as cities around the world.
To me, tackling poor air quality is a no-brainer. Air pollution is the highest environmental risk to human health, affecting our most vulnerable members of society including children, older people and those with existing health conditions. There is a growing body of research documenting the impacts of poor air quality – just this month, researchers found evidence to suggest air pollution could prematurely age our lungs by more than four years during our lifetime, while a separate study warned it could shorten the life of a child living in a UK city by seven months on average. There will hardly be a family living in Edinburgh who hasn’t been touched by childhood asthma, dementia, cancer or heart disease, whose incidence can be related to the serious effects of air pollution.
With around 80% of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NOx) concentrations directly attributable to road transport, there’s no doubt that we must take action. That’s why we have committed to a comprehensive approach to Low Emission Zones (LEZ) as one major step towards protecting Edinburgh’s citizens from the harms of poor air quality.
Introducing a LEZ is key to achieving a step change in our approach to air quality issues and I know this is something the public want to see too. Three quarters of respondents to our recent, major consultation on place-making in Edinburgh, in which more than 5000 people participated, told us they’d like to see the most polluting vehicles restricted from the city centre.
We’ve been working closely with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to develop evidence-led LEZ proposals that truly address the significant impact high polluting vehicles have on air pollution.
We now want to know what the public think of our ambitious proposals, which put forward a city centre boundary for all vehicles and a citywide boundary for commercial vehicles like buses, lorries and taxis. Our consultation has recently concluded, which asked people what they think of these LEZ proposals, including the vehicle types affected and the grace periods provided for vehicle owners to adapt to the changes, and the specific boundaries. Feedback received will feed into refined LEZ proposals and will be reported to councillors later this year.
We will be bringing LEZs to Edinburgh, but we want to make sure we bring residents, commuters and visitors along with us as we develop detailed proposals. This is a challenging task, but we must balance the need to be ambitious in our approach toward tackling poor air quality with our duty to support the behaviour change we need to see from businesses and residents.
We also want to make it clear that introducing LEZs is part of a broader approach to improving sustainability and connectivity across the city. We want to change the way people use transport in Edinburgh. This project is inextricably linked to a range of schemes to boost active travel, facilitate public transport, enhance pedestrian spaces and improve the health and wellbeing of everyone who lives in or visits Edinburgh.
Our bold City Centre Transformation strategy is central to this. It is designed to deliver a more people-friendly centre, prioritising movement on foot, by bike and by public transport, while the City Mobility Plan will allow us to deliver a suite of transport-focused measures across Edinburgh. In addition, our Electric Vehicle Action Plan, which will see charging hubs rolled out across the city, will contribute significantly to the success of our LEZ. The recently-launched programme of Open Streets events has given a wonderful insight into what a future Edinburgh could look and feel like with quieter, cleaner, traffic-free streets too.
Here in Edinburgh we will play a vital part in delivering better air quality in Scotland. Developing a LEZ is something we must do, for everyone’s benefit. I’m pleased that we’re moving in the right direction towards improving people’s quality of life, conserving our city’s heritage and, most importantly, protecting the health of generations to come.