Polluted Glasgow may impose traffic ban to protect Games stars

AIR pollution will cast a cloud over Glasgow's hosting of the Commonwealth Games, according to a damning new report.

Latest studies reveal the city may not meet crucial targets to improve levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until 2020 - six years after the sporting showpiece.

Glasgow may be forced to ban heavily polluting traffic to try to bring emission levels down if the European Commission launches enforcement action in the run-up to the 2014 Games.

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Such a move would be reminiscent of the action taken by Beijing before the 2008 Olympics, when a million cars were banned from the streets.

Although there are 40 pollution hotspots across the UK, Glasgow and the North-east of Scotland have two of the worst records for NO2, based on the number of times their roads exceed hourly limits.

The EU restricts emissions of NO2 and other pollutants because of their health impacts. Existing levels are thought to cause about 3,000 people to die prematurely each year.

Strict targets were originally to be met in 2010, but many EU countries, including the UK, had problems meeting this deadline and were granted extensions until 2015.

But the new study published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said 40 different parts of Britain were still not compliant, with 17 zones, including Glasgow, not due to comply with the safe limits until 2020.

• Analysis: This problem should have been tackled years ago

The North-east is not expected to reach a safe level until 2015.

Defra is planning to submit a detailed action plan to the EC by September to head off the prospect of infringement action over the next few years.

Its report states: "The UK, along with most other EU member states, faces challenges in achieving full compliance in our major cities and towns."

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Dr Dan Barlow, WWF Scotland's head of policy, said: "It is somewhat embarrassing that we are planning on bringing some of the healthiest people on the planet to one of the areas of the UK with the worst air quality.

"Luckily for the athletes, they will be here just a few weeks, but the people of Glasgow are set to continue to suffer this pollution every day for many years to come.

"Air pollution from road traffic is a major threat to health and needs to be tackled without further delay. It is simply unacceptable that residents of Glasgow continue to be exposed to such levels of pollution."

He added: "Instead of building more traffic-generating roads, we need to see real action to help people avoid having to use the car by investing in public transport, walking and cycling. Where cars are needed, they should be electric vehicles."

Glasgow-based GP Dr Peter Cawston, an outspoken critic of the city's air pollution over many years, said: "The city really needs to adopt a policy that is both environmentally friendly and also friendly to people's overall health. Lots of people would like to cycle but are afraid to and resort to using cars. "A vast amount of money was spent on building a motorway into the city, but there is no investment which comes close to that in making it a healthier place to live.

"The biggest health implications are on respiratory and heart conditions, but, more importantly, the fact that Glasgow has such poor health levels overall tells us that we need a completely different direction in how we organise ourselves in terms of transport in the city."

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: "While local authorities do not have overall responsibility for air quality, we are taking steps through our own action plan to try and improve it, against some of the toughest targets set anywhere in the world.

"Targeting vehicle pollution is central to that work."