DRIVERS of the worst-polluting vehicles could be charged to go into parts of Glasgow city centre under plans from the SNP, the party’s leader on the city council said.

Susan Aitken, who is tipped to be the next Glasgow City Council leader, hailed a move by London mayor Sadiq Khan to introduce a tax on diesel car owners who drive through the most polluted parts of the UK capital, saying Khan was “probably thinking along the same lines as we are”.

The SNP appears poised to end decades of Labour rule in Glasgow in next month’s local council elections, according to opinion polls.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Aitken praised the Labour politician for his radical plan to curb toxic emissions from cars. Of Khan’s plan, Aitken said: “This is [pollution] damaging people’s health. We’ll monitor it closely and see if it works. He’s pioneering it.”

Khan said that from April 8, 2019 the most polluting vehicles will be charged an extra £12.50 for entering London’s ultra low-emissions zone (ULEZ). This charge will supersede the £10 toxicity charge which will be introduced in the city in October.

Aitken said the SNP plans to introduce a low-emission zone in the city during its first term in power and would consider charging zones for the drivers of highly polluting cars. She said the most polluted streets, such as Union Street and Hope Street, could be part of such a scheme.

She said the issue was a “significant social justice challenge” and that toxic emissions harmed the poorest Glaswegians. Air pollution is responsible for 300 premature deaths in Glasgow each year, she said, a figure previously highlighted in a council report.

The intervention came as council leader Frank McAveety stressed that he did not have the ability to introduce the charges for polluting cars that his Labour colleague Khan is pioneering in London. In today’s Sunday Herald People Behind The Power interview, McAveety says: “I don’t have the powers on that. Places like London and Manchester have got greater autonomy and powers to make decisions that improve the lives of their citizens.”

When asked if he backed the policy and if it should be considered in Scotland, he added: “Anything that brings environmental improvement should be looked at.”

However, Aitken said Glasgow City Council under her leadership would seek new powers from the Scottish Government to regulate pollution.

An SNP pledge in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto has been included in the Scottish Government’s climate change strategy, which states ministers would “collaborate with a local authority to put in place a pilot low emission zone by 2018”. Aitken said a Glasgow City Council run by the SNP would seek to become Scotland’s first “low-emission zone” (LEZ) within a year of coming to power. She said: “Glasgow is the obvious choice and I think the Scottish Government would welcome that.”

LEZs in other parts of Europe have usually involved a ban on vehicles with high emissions, or charges for those to enter the area.

Aitken said she would initially encourage bus companies and taxi firms to use environmentally-friendly vehicles. “A problem in the UK for a long time was that there was a tax regime that favoured diesel cars and people have been encouraged to drive some of the worst cars, so we can’t start charging folk right away,” she said.

“But further down the line, as more and more alternatives become available, it’s not something we’d rule out.”

She added: “If we were to establish one [an LEZ] and three or four years in were not making any progress then we would have to look at other options. Charging might be an option.”

Speaking about the scale of pollution in Glasgow, Aitken said: “There are 300 deaths a year and older people and those from the poorest areas are more likely to suffer. We’re absolutely clear that the nettle has to be grasped on this. It’s a significant social justice challenge and we have to be bold. We should be prepared to take action. Hope Street in particular is bad. Hope Street must be one of the most polluted streets in Scotland. A lot of it is to do with the volume of buses and taxis, but there are private cars [responsible] too. Everyone contributes to it.”

Under Khan’s plans petrol cars more than 13 years old in 2019, and diesel cars more than four years old in 2019, will be classed as not meeting the environmental standards. The charging regime will mean a ULEZ daily fee of £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes, as well as £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs to drive in the zones. However, for motorists with non-compliant cars – and with the congestion added if applicable – the total will be £24 a day.

A Green MSP called on the Scottish Government to follow suit. Environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell said the radical move was needed in Scotland to “shut out the dirtiest vehicles from dangerously polluted streets”.

Ruskell, said ministers should pilot LEZs much more widely in major cities and begin to identify which areas it would be tested in. The Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP claimed the government had not shown sufficient commitment to the idea of charging motorists of the most polluted vehicles. He said: “We have dozens of areas breaching legal air quality limits and thousands of people are dying from air pollution every year in Scotland so the government needs to be far more ambitious.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said Scotland’s first LEZ would be in place by early 2018. “We are determined to improve air quality and are working to ensure Scotland’s first low-emission zone is in place next year,” the spokesperson said. “The government is liaising closely with local authorities and other partners to meet this timetable. A National Low Emission Framework (NLEF) will be published this year to enable an LEZ early-adopter scheme to be appraised for one of Scotland’s four major cities.

“Our NLEF will consider the Euro-standard criteria for vehicles that could form the basis of vehicle access restrictions and complementary measures that mitigate issues such as congestion.”