ENVIRONMENTALISTS have warned that plans to create Scotland’s first low emission zone in Glasgow will condemn the people of the city to breathing "illegal air" for years to come.

Friends of the Earth Scotland say that the proposals would only apply to a fraction of the vehicles pumping out harmful pollutants in the city centre - and would fail to meet the Scottish Government's mandated targets.

Last October, World Health Organisation testing found that Glasgow was one of the most polluted areas in the UK, with poorer air quality than London.

The Glasgow city centre zone will initially crack down on bus pollution with all the vehicles to be compliant with restricted emissions in the area by the end of 2022.

But the move, which is to be followed with zones in Scotland’s other cities, has been widely criticised by campaigners - with concerns the plans will only apply to one in five buses by the end of 2018.

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There was also concern that was was no timetable in place to limit pollution from cars, vans and lorries.

Friends of the Earth Scotland which labelled the plans a “No Ambition Zone” added: “The proposals condemn Glasgow to illegal air for years to come and must be urgently improved. Councillors must recommend these proposals be significantly improved when they discuss them next week or they will have failed the people of Glasgow who suffer daily from the health impacts of air pollution.

"This plan is even worse that initially envisaged, not only will the Zone fail to catch dirty vans and lorries but it will only apply to a tiny fraction of buses. A Low Emission Zone which has no signs to mark it, no new cameras to catch offenders and continues to allow almost every dirty vehicle into the city centre, is not a Low Emission Zone.

"The bus industry and the dinosaurs at Government agency Transport Scotland have succeeding in making sure the Glasgow LEZ proposals will fail to achieve clean air by 2020, the Scottish Government’s target date for compliance with safety standards."

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Plans to cut exhaust fumes from buses as part of the zone which will be established by the end of this year, will be voted on by councillors in Glasgow next week.

Environmental lawyers Client Earth who previously said they were considering taking the Scottish Government to court over air quality failures has warned that Scotland, like the rest of the UK, needs to obey the law on pollution limits.

READ MORE: Scots ministers face legal action by lawyer group ClientEarth over clean air failures

Glasgow, which Client Earth has described as "the most polluted city in Scotland" was cited as one of four zones with what it called "illegal and harmful levels" of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which comes mostly from diesel vehicles.

Some 2000 early deaths are caused every year in Scotland because of polluted air according to the latest medical research, with some 40,000 across the UK.

The Scottish government set its own target date for compliance with EU safety standards by 2020, having missed an earlier deadline in 2010 because of Glasgow’s high levels of NO2 pollution.

HeraldScotland:

Dirty air causes at least £27.5bn in costs very year in the UK, according to the government’s own estimates and a raft of recent studies and reports have linked air pollution to heart disease and lung problems, including asthma.

Glasgow City Council has said it is working with bus operators and government funding to retrofit bus fleets to make them compliant with emission targets.

Councillor Anna Richardson, convener for sustainability and carbon reduction, said: “While we continue to work with the bus industry to improve services – services which are vital to the lives of Glaswegians – it’s recognised that the introduction of a low emission zone (LEZ) needs to be proportionate and managed in such a way that ambition and practicality can be balanced.

“Glasgow is forging a national path towards cleaner air – air that we will all benefit from. Poor air quality is a significant public health concern and a major social justice issue for Glasgow.”

But Anna Heslop, clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Glasgow must not fail its citizens and must protect the health of those living in and travelling through the city. The point of a low emission zone is to bring pollution levels within legal limits and this plan, as currently envisaged, is incoherent, ill-considered, and unworkable.

READ MORE: Glasgow named and shamed as one of UK's most polluted cities

“Scotland is obliged to bring down pollution levels as soon as possible and the Scottish Government must make sure that the schemes put in place in the worst polluted towns and cities do just that.

"If this is what the first scheme looks like, then there is little hope for the rest of the country. Like so many parts of the UK, legal pollution limits are being broken in Glasgow. The city council, and the Scottish Government need to take urgent action to remedy this ill-thought through plan before the health of more citizens is put at risk.”

The Federation of Small Businesses has warned that few Scottish firms are prepared for these new rules.

Andy Willox, FSB's Scottish policy convenor, said: "These proposals must be developed in partnership with local traders.

"FSB believes that firms and residents must be given time to adapt - that's why a phased approach is so important.

"In a similar way to households, purchasing new vehicles is a huge investment for smaller businesses that they'll look to recoup over a number of years. Glasgow City Council must shift gear when it comes to communicating these changes, and the Scottish Government should offer help for cash-strapped smaller firms."