M8 motorway traffic Glasgow UK

Four Scottish cities introduce low-emission zones

Image credit: Euan Cameron | Unsplash

Low-emission zones (LEZs) have formally begun in four Scottish cities, although they will not be enforced for at least a year.

Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are introducing LEZs in order to improve air quality, with many older vehicles banned from city centres. Penalties for bringing a non-compliant vehicle into the LEZ will typically be set at £60, and halved to £30 if paid early.

Although the LEZs have formally already begun, the four cities have established different grace periods to allow users to get used to the shift. While Dundee will start enforcing the measure from 30 May 2024, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen will end the grace period for residents on 1 June 2024, with Glasgow already enforcing the measures for buses and other specific types of vehicles.

“Our air quality is generally good – but for too long air pollution has exceeded legal limits for health in our city centres as a consequence of unrestricted vehicle emissions,” said Scotland's Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

“We have a moral responsibility to act. Air pollution often disproportionally impacts those with the least in our society. It causes the most damage to the youngest, the oldest and those with pre-existing medical conditions.”

LEZs aim to address the global challenge that is pollution, particularly in urban areas. Pollution has been found to be the cause of over nine million deaths a year, according to recent studies. Air, chemical and water pollution accounted for one in six deaths worldwide in 2019, surpassing the annual global tolls for war, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol.

The new regulations state that all petrol cars that are driven into the Scottish cities will be required to have engines at the Euro 4 standard, which generally applies to vehicles registered after 2006. Diesel-powered cars and vans will need to be at the Euro 6 standard, mainly applying to vehicles registered after 2015.

The LEZ requirements will not be applicable, however, to blue badge holders.

“LEZs are the biggest change we’ve ever seen in how vehicles will access our cities – and they need to be, in order to best protect public health and improve air quality,” Gilruth added.

However, some have criticised the measure as not being sufficient to address the problem of pollution in large urban areas. Other European cities have imposed much stricter regulations, with a view to completely banning fuel-powered cars from their streets by 2030, in the case of Amsterdam, or 2035, in that of Brussels.

Kevin Lang, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh City Council, said the LEZ being introduced in the capital was “too timid in its ambition and too slow in its implementation” and warned that it will not keep areas around the city centre from suffering “unacceptable low levels of air quality.”

“In the years to come, the council will look back and regret the LEZ did not go further and faster,” he said. “This has been a wasted opportunity to deliver a positive step-change in tackling the poor air quality which causes so many health issues, particularly in children.”

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