THEY are some of the biggest beasts on the roads - and come with a horrifying carbon footprint.

For decades council bin lorries and gritters have spewed choking greenhouse gases in to city and town streets.

Not for much longer, not in Glasgow at least. The city has announced that its entire fleet of 2000 vehicles will be carbon free by the end of 2029.

So it will be buying electric cars and, more controversially, hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles for its heavy fleet.

Its ambition is part of a wider bid to become Britain’s first zero net carbon city.

As a start Glasgow has secured £805,000 from government quango Transport Scotland to convert 23 winter gritters to dual fuel hydrogen.

Glasgow hopes that it can create a market for hydrogen fuel that will help other local authorities and commercial firms switch. And it recognise it will not make progress if it cannot find a solution for heavy transport.

Anna Richardson, the councillor who leads on the climate emergency, said: “To tackle carbon reduction in Glasgow effectively, it is essential the council gets its own house in order.

“Both transport providers and environmental campaigners are looking to the council to take a lead toward carbon neutrality for our fleet.

“Electric vehicle technology is evolving rapidly and will be able to support a wide range of tasks undertaken by our vehicles.

“But the green technology for heavier vehicles is still emerging and so we have the opportunity to influence the market for ourselves and other major transport providers.

“The funding award from Transport Scotland will help to ensure larger dual fuel hydrogen gritters are up and running in the early part of next year.

“These dual fuel vehicles should act as a significant stepping stone towards emissions-free gritters and refuse trucks as part of our wider strategy for a zero emissions fleet.

“A wide range of discussions is currently underway on we best secure green hydrogen for our vehicles and move away from traditional sources of energy.

“We are absolutely focused on ensuring renewable energy drives our fleet in future.”

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Anna Richardson

Hydrogen remains controversial among environmentalists, some of whom see it as a “gateway drug” fuel for big hydrocarbon firms.

Richard Dixon, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Hydrogen is a dead end for transport fuels which is being heavily promoted by the fossil fuel industry.

“If Glasgow invests in hydrogen vehicles they will find them to be very expensive white elephants in the future.

“There are already electric single and double decker buses in London, electric buses in four Scottish cities, electric bin lorries on trial in Sheffield and plans to build electric waste trucks in the UK.

“Electric vehicles, even large ones, are the future, so there is no need to go to the expense or take the risk of using hydrogen to run vehicles. “The plan admits that hydrogen trucks are extremely expensive. “Electricity is clearly winning the big vehicle war over hydrogen. If you are going to spend lots of money replacing a fleet, spend it on electric vehicles because they are the only sensible option.”

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The dispute centres on whether hydrogen, current described as “grey” because it is made with either natural gas or coal, can be “green” in the future.

Supporters of hydrogen technology stress that it will massively reduce emissions compared with the current solution for powering big trucks: diesel. Even dual-fuel vehicles are understood to offer a 40% cut.

The Scottish Government is also eager to pursue hydrogen for heavy vehicles and ferries.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, praised the council’s efforts to move towards a zero emissions fleet.

Mr Matheson said the city was “yet again leading from the front in taking steps to improve air quality and through their new plan to decarbonise their existing fleet of vehicles by 2029”.

He added: “The 2019/20 Programme for Government outlined our commitment to phase out the need for new petrol or diesel cars in the public sector fleet by 2025 and for all other vehicles by 2030.

“Glasgow’s new fleet strategy directly responds to this ambition and supports our Climate Change Plan alongside our ambition for Scotland’s air quality to be the best in Europe.

“Transport Scotland officials have been working closely with Glasgow City Council to support this strategy and I’m delighted we are providing £805,000 from our Switched on Fleets Fund to convert over 20 gritters to dual-fuel hydrogen.

“We will continue to work in partnership to ensure that we can collectively maximise the economic opportunities for all of Scotland through this crucial transition to low carbon transportation.”

The overhaul and upgrade of the council’s fleet is due to begin with new electric cars being introduced in early months of next year along with the tower vans used to repair the city’s lighting columns.

New electric road and precinct sweepers will be deployed next year also. Aberdeen has already put Scotland’s first hydrogen dual-fuel street sweeper in to operation.

A Glasgow council spokesman added: “The fleet strategy also provides the opportunity for new technology to be installed within vehicles that will to boost the operation performance of vehicles, sharpen the scheduling for collection routes and ultimately improve recycling rates.

“The safe operation of the council’s vehicles for employees, contractors, other road users and the general public is the key principle that underpins the strategy.”

Glasgow council is mulling a whole series of policy proposals from a working group to reach zero net carbon by 2030, including reforms to its own estate.

The fleet strategy was approved last month so is one of the first initiatives to get official blessing from the local authority’s ruling SNP administration.