Tomorrow (20th March), councillors on the Environment, Sustainability and Carbon Reduction Policy Development Committee, of which I am the vice convenor, will consider an update on plans for a phased introduction of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Glasgow. This has the potential to improve the health of everyone in the city and make Glasgow a more pleasant and liveable city. However, my Green colleagues and I have serious concerns, echoed by organisations such as the British Lung Foundation and Friends of the Earth, that the plans as they stand will not urgently tackle the shocking levels of air pollution that Glaswegians have to live with every day. We are pushing for the plans to be made bolder by accelerating the timetable for improving emissions from buses.
Hope Street in Glasgow’s city centre remains one of the most polluted streets in Scotland, with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the country. Each year around 300 Glaswegians are killed by the city’s toxic air. The creation of a LEZ is a chance to tackle the appalling levels of air pollution on the city’s streets, and also to enhance public transport options in the city centre. This is a key Green manifesto idea that we have been pushing the SNP administration to implement.
To tackle toxic air and improve the city’s transport, the city has to rapidly invest in low carbon technologies - including electric buses - and develop the Crossrail project, new protected cycleways, affordable buses across Glasgow and integrated ticketing.
Sadly, the proposals for the first phase of implementing the Low Emission Zone only cover buses, and only in the city centre. There’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalties for bus companies that don’t comply.
The green light was given to the establishment of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in September 2017 by councillors on the City Administration Committee, but it’s taken until now for more detail on the costs and plans to enhance bus services.
This leaves residents in communities along Dumbarton Road, in Hyndland in my own ward, and in many areas in the rest of the city stuck breathing shocking levels of pollution. The area covered by the Low Emission Zone has to remain subject to review with the option to extend to cover the whole city.
Taxis and private cars also emit harmful particulates and nitrogen oxides, but they are not considered as part of the first phase. Plans for the second phase are subject to public consultation over the next 12 months, and details for the next stage of LEZ implementation, covering all vehicles, should be reported back to councillors by the end of March 2019.
The proposal to take four more years to bring buses up to meet the tougher Euro 6 emission standard is not progressive enough, and will not deliver the rapid change to air quality that Glaswegians need. We need a commitment to accelerate investment in greener buses, including funding for electric and fuel cell buses, and to upgrade the exhaust systems of over 800 existing diesel buses to help both improve the air quality in the city and to reduce carbon emissions. This needs to happen much sooner than the council’s proposed timescale, which will leave residents subject to continued poor air quality for far too long.
The case for retrofitting exhausts on existing buses has been made by Professor David Begg, who produced a report last year which included an economic analysis of buses and Low Emission Zones. He found that retrofitting buses to meet tougher emissions standards gave 15 times more value than scrappage schemes. He said “it is not logistically possible to replace this number of bus vehicles by 2020. Even if it were possible it couldn’t be done without reducing the number of buses in operation, resulting in a lot more cars on the road, with the rise in congestion creating severe adverse consequences for city economies and their environment. Modern diesel buses including retrofit of existing vehicles to Euro VI standard will deliver the reduction in NOx and other harmful emissions that is required in the time frame available. Retrofits for buses are reliable and proven to deliver Euro VI emission performance."
In other areas of the UK, bus companies have been actively investing in lower emission buses in advance of low emission zones coming in. For example, First group in Leeds have committed to spending £71m on new cleaner vehicles by 2020. It’s disappointing that Glasgow’s bus operators haven’t been challenged enough to clean up their act. Currently only around 15% of Glasgow’s buses meet the required standard, despite bus companies having known for some time that a LEZ was on the cards. It’s not acceptable for them to attempt to bully the council into watering down plans by making threats of fare rises and cuts to services.
The Scottish Government is making over £10m in loans available to help with the purchase or retrofitting of low emission buses, and another £10m to cover the costs of introducing Low Emission Zones - the money is there to clean up Glasgow’s air.
The Scottish Parliament will be holding Glasgow to account on this. The follow up to the Air Quality in Scotland Inquiry by Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee requires a report on LEZ progress to be made by June. The implementation of the Glasgow LEZ will be subject to close scrutiny and councillors have to ensure they agree to measures that meet Scotland’s legal commitments over air pollution.
We need the council to be bolder for the sake of everyone’s health, and that’s what I and my Green colleagues are pushing for. We have a vision of a greener, cleaner, healthier Glasgow, where everyone can realistically make sustainable transport choices, and we are working to make that a reality.