Environmental campaigners are expected to criticise City of Edinburgh Council’s Low Emission Zone plans later today. The Council’s Transport and Environment Committee are debating the LEZ plans, which has two zones. The outer zone will not restrict cars, and campaigners caution that the inner zone is so small it will only serve to displace, rather than reduce, pollution.

Key aspects of the plans:

  • A small low emission zone covering the Old Town will restrict buses and HGVs from the end of 2021, with the oldest, most-polluting cars restricted from the end of 2024.
  • A larger zone, covering the whole city, will be in place from the end of 2023 and does not apply to cars. It will only apply to buses, coaches, and HGVs.
  • There will be no restrictions on cars in Edinburgh in the next 5 years, despite their huge role in causing air pollution.
  • Edinburgh currently has 6 official pollution zones, where air quality standards are not met, but only one of these is included in the central LEZ.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner Gavin Thomson, who will make an official deputation to the Committee meeting, commented:

“Toxic and illegal levels of air pollution in Edinburgh cause 200 early deaths each year. A number of streets across the city are breaking legal limits that should have been met years ago. Low Emission Zones are a great way of removing the most polluting vehicles from where most people live, work, and spend time. However, these plans do not address the scale of the problem and the design will create as many problems as they solve.

“It is great to see Edinburgh Council committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. But these plans do nothing to achieve this. It is shocking that so little action is being taken to restrict polluting cars. Cars will only be excluded from the tiny city centre zone in 5 years’ time, while cars of any age are free to drive round the rest of the city – including through air pollution hotspots and streets with illegal levels of pollution. Many residents in Edinburgh will be surprised that the Council is creating a zone to tackle air pollution but that it doesn’t actually apply to cars.

“The Old Town will be well served by these plans. The inner zone will protect the city centre and improve air quality for tourists and shoppers. But, further out, residential areas will experience higher traffic and air pollution, as the more polluting vehicles drive round the zone. Everyone in Edinburgh has a right to breathe safe air now, yet these plans will only begin to clear the air in one part of the city. Young children in Edinburgh will continue to grow up choking on dirty air that is harming their health and their physical development.

“I ask the Committee to consider improving this Zone to ensure that the health of Edinburgh residents is protected. Clearly drivers will need a grace period to change their travel patterns, but the most polluting vehicles, including the dirtiest cars, must be restricted from our city.

“As part of our response to the climate emergency, we must take action to reduce the climate emissions from transport. Allowing Edinburgh to continue to be smogged out by older, diesel cars, indefinitely, with a small protected area in the Old Town, does not match the apparent ambition of the Council or the scale of the climate emergency we face. Carbon neutral by 2030 means acting now.

“We’ll be asking the Council to consider how, with an appropriate period of adjustment, the Low Emission Zone could provide the ambition we need, for our health and for our climate.”


Notes to Editors

1. City of Edinburgh Council’s Transport & Environment Committee meets at 10am Thursday 16th May. More information can be found at: http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/meetings/committee/1005/transport_and_environment_committee

2. Edinburgh Council have committed to go carbon neutral by 2030. https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/here-s-how-edinburgh-aims-to-go-carbon-neutral-by-2030-1-4927199

3. Scotland will phase out fossil fuel vehicles by 2032. https://www.scotsman.com/news-2-15012/scotland-to-phase-out-petrol-and-diesel-vehicles-by-2032-1-4551797

4. 200 premature deaths from fine particle (PM2.5) air pollution in Edinburgh: see Public Health England, “Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution” (2014), Table 3, page 20. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/estimating-local-mortality-burdens-associated-with-particulate-air-pollution

5. Free to use photos of Edinburgh air pollution protests and Scotland’s most polluted streets are available at https://flic.kr/s/aHskrG52pg

6. Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth Scotland identified 4 sites in Edinburgh with illegal pollution levels
Dirtiest streets for Nitrogen Dioxide
The European Ambient Air Quality Directive set a limit for NO2 of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre, so all these sites are breaking the legal limit. The deadline for compliance was 1 January 2010.
Location / NO2 Annual mean (µg/m3)
Edinburgh Queensferry Road / 50.54
Edinburgh Nicolson Street / 49.22
Edinburgh St John’s Road / 46.32
Dirtiest streets for Particulate Matter
The Scottish annual statutory standard for particulate matter (PM10) is 18 micrograms per cubic metre, so two of these sites are breaking the standard. The deadline for this standard to have been met was 31st December 2010.
Location / PM10 Annual mean (µg/m3)
Edinburgh Queensferry Road / 24.15
Edinburgh Salamander St / 20.83

7. Edinburgh has 6 Local Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). An AQMA is required when a pollutant fails to meet air quality standards which are set by the Scottish Government. http://www.scottishairquality.scot/laqm/aqma?id=370

8. City of Edinburgh Council’s own report states that “4.17 There is a risk that a the city centre boundary alone may displace polluting vehicles to other areas of the city and exacerbate existing air quality problems.”
Full Meeting Papers (Part 1) – Transport and Environment Committee – 16.05.19 – Full Meeting Papers – P.195

9. Friends of the Earth Scotland is
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups.