Lesson of LEZs is to be bold on environmental initiatives - Richard Dixon

LEZs are not a complete answer but they are a big step in the right direction

Despite a certain amount of nervousness and political parties playing games, the introduction of Scotland’s Low Emission Zones has gone well. This demonstrates that politicians can be bolder when introducing environmental measures.

Glasgow has had an LEZ in operation for six years, and it has included cars for a year now. The city centre has not become a zombie wasteland. In the last few days, the LEZs in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh have gone live. The LEZs will keep out the most polluting cars and other vehicles from city centres. It is suggested that already 85 per cent of cars on the road meet the required pollution standards. This leaves petrol cars over 18 years old and diesel cars over nine years old having to avoid the zones or pay a fine.

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There is help available for those whose vehicles are too polluting. People on a range of benefits can receive a £2,000 grant if they scrap a car that cannot go into their local LEZ, with a further £1,000 available for measures like buying a bike, joining a car club or buying a public transport season ticket. There is also a scheme to help small businesses.

Air pollution is a problem in our city centres and has been linked to many health issues. As well as killing 1,700 people a year in Scotland, air pollution is also linked to restricted lung development in children, asthma, diabetes, dementia, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. LEZs are not a complete answer but they are a big step in the right direction towards cleaning up the air we breathe.

There are already 320 LEZs in Europe, including 17 in the UK. Of course, there were those who opposed Scotland’s LEZs, principal among them the roads lobby, who still think that any driver should be allowed to drive any vehicle wherever they like. There were also those with genuine concerns about where the more polluting traffic might get diverted to or about access to businesses inside the zone, but these issues have generally been dealt with well by the councils and, combined with the scrappage scheme, most people are happy with the introduction of the LEZs. In fact a survey last week found that 3 times as many people in Scotland support LEZs as oppose them.

Perhaps there is a lesson for politicians that there is more appetite for well-designed environmental measures than they think. An old example is the London congestion charge. Ken Livingstone was elected with a manifesto promised to introduce the charge and despite a massive campaign against him, led by the Evening Standard, he delivered, and the congestion charge is now seen as a vital transport measure for London.

Similarly, a survey of MPs this week reveals that they significantly under estimate public support for solar and wind farms, and are much more enthusiastic about more oil and gas production than the public.

Tackling climate change requires some radical changes in how we live, from how we get about to how we heat our homes. The experience of introducing LEZs to our four biggest cities should encourage politicians, local and national, to be more ambitious and back strong measures commensurate with the challenge of the climate emergency.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant

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