THE SCOTTISH Government has been told it is “not serious about urgent action on air pollution” after announcing proposed Low Emission Zones (LEZs) for the four biggest cities will be delayed until May 2022.

The proposals to introduce restrictions on polluting vehicles in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen were intended to be in place by December 2020. But due to the Covid-19 crisis, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has confirmed the indicative timeframe for bringing in the plans has been shifted until between February and May 2022.

He said: “The Scottish Government and members of the Low Emission Zone leadership group are committed to introducing LEZs across Scotland’s four biggest cities as quickly as possible.

“LEZs are key to improving air quality, protecting public health and supporting Scotland’s wider climate change ambitions by encouraging more sustainable transport options.

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“With the indicative timeline now established, planning continues at a local authority level and the Scottish Government will continue to develop the required regulations as well as providing funding to help people and businesses prepare.”

But environmental campaigners have criticised the delays, raising concerns that the updated timescale is not a firm commitment.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This shocking delay shows that Scottish Government and councils are not serious about urgent action on air pollution.

“Everyone understands that the pandemic has delayed action in many areas but people in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh are now expected to wait more than a year longer for just the first steps in cleaning up the air they breathe. In Glasgow plans to tighten up the standards for buses and to extend the zone to cover other vehicles are also delayed.

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“Today’s announcement isn’t even a firm commitment, just a promise to try to meet the extended deadline. Next week’s Programme for Government must address the inadequacy of low emission zones in light of this latest setback, and the increased need to fix air pollution.

"These changes mean the timetable for future tightening of the zones is under threat. The date by which cars will be included must not be allowed to slip further and councils should think about expanding the zones to protect more people."

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He added: “Scottish cities are years behind legal deadlines in meeting air pollution standards and people have suffered toxic traffic fumes and ill health for long enough. There is a growing evidence base on the links between air pollution and vulnerability to Covid-19. Pollution from traffic causes and exacerbates many of the heart and lung conditions that put people at heightened risk from the virus.

“The Scottish Government has also failed to bring forward a plan or any funding for eventually improving these to zero emissions zones, as pledged in 2019.

“The longstanding need to take action on air pollution to improve public health has only been heightened by this crisis."