IT was never going to be a policy that met with instant, universal approval. But despite criticisms, some of which are valid given the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, this week's full roll-out of the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Scotland's largest and most populous city makes sense.

Hundreds of European cities already have vehicle entry regulations of one sort or another. Why should Glasgow not share in the public health benefits of such schemes? Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are all due to follow suit with their own LEZs next year.

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Glasgow's rules are strict, with a penalty charge being levied on any driver taking a vehicle into the LEZ which is not either exempt or compliant with standards. Roughly speaking, if you have a diesel engine vehicle registered before September 2015 or a petrol vehicle registered pre-2006, you are likely to be fined.

Some of the concerns expressed over the scheme seem to stem from antagonism towards the SNP government, as Humza Yousaf noted at Holyrood this week after being goaded by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Douglas Ross had called for the LEZ roll-out to be delayed by a year so as to allow concerns to be listened to. But it is not as though the scheme has been sprung onto Glasgow overnight, without warning. The scheme has been known about for more than five years. 

Humza Yousaf defends Low Emission Zone

Mr Yousaf made a telling point when he asserted that, had the LEZ been delayed further, more people would have suffered from their asthma, or because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More Glasgow citizens, he added, would have suffered dire health consequences, because air pollution in Glasgow is nowhere near the standards that the SNP government wants it to be. The LEZ would help with that. 

The Low Emission Zones Scotand body acknowledges that though air pollution in Scotland has been reduced over recent years, air quality remains an issue in hotspots in Scotland’s towns and cities. Some areas, it observes, do not comply with European and domestic air quality legislation, mainly due to road transport. 

Glasgow's low emission zone: Explained in five minutes

Poor air quality, it argues, has a negative impact on all of our health, but with the very young, the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions especially vulnerable. Councillor Angus Millar, Glasgow City Council convener for climate and transport, estimates that around 300 people a year in the city, and 2,000 across Scotland, die as a result of the implications of air pollution.

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While levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in all Scottish cities are now within the legal limits, Glasgow’s levels are still well above the World Health Organisation air quality guideline. The Asthma + Lung UK Scotland charity says air pollution is "shockingly" in excess of WHO levels and says that tackling air pollution has to become a national priority.

Glasgow LEZ: New rules on emissions in force from today

Criticisms have been levelled at the new rules beyond those made by Mr Ross. Claims have been made that the rules will diminish the number of taxis, with adverse effects for the city's night-time economy. There already seems to be a shortage of taxis in Glasgow, which has worrying implications for the safety of young women seeking to get home after a night out.

There are other, wider, issues: could the city's public transport be made cheaper and more accessible? Is there more that could be done to improve the transport infrastructure generally so that the transition to the new rules is made easier? This should be a priority for the city.

Is everything being done to increase the number of public charging-points for electric vehicles? A study by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has detected a widening gulf across the UK between the number of EVs on the road and public charging-points.

LEZs are contentious, then, but studies have shown that they do have benefits. One survey put the health benefits from reduced air pollution in some two dozen German cities to be between €760m and €2.6bn.

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Glasgow's LEZ is an idea worth pursuing, even if it does cause pain in the short or medium term. Nor is it mere virtue-signalling, as some acerbic critics have claimed. We all benefit from cleaner air. Countless other European cities have successfully negotiated the difficulties and the disruption that such zones cause: Glasgow can, too, and the lessons it learns deserve to be studied carefully by Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen in their turn.

LEZs and similar schemes are, however, only a start: what is needed now are determined efforts to tackle air pollution in all communities.