CAMPAIGNERS have warned that scaled-back plans to set up a low emission zone (LEZ) in Edinburgh will not eliminate “toxic air across the capital”.

Council bosses in Edinburgh are set to axe plans for a citywide LEZ and have instead decided to take forward a “preferred option” of a smaller zone to cut emissions in some of the city centre – mostly covering the historic Old Town.

The Scottish Government is ensuring that LEZs are set up in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh in a bid to cut toxic air pollution – blamed on 2,500 early deaths in Scotland every year and research suggesting that more than one in 29 deaths are caused by air pollution in Edinburgh.

Initial plans for Edinburgh’s low emission zone included high-polluting commercial vehicles, taxis and buses facing hefty fines if they enter the majority of the city.

But council bosses insist this stricter option is no longer needed due to improvements made to reduce levels of toxic fumes in hotspots on the outskirts of the city.

Under the revised plans, the LEZ will become enforceable for all vehicles except motorcycles and mopeds from the spring of 2024.

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Enforcement will take place through licence plate recognition cameras and those breaching the rules will face an initial penalty of £60 which will increase for each offence up to a cap of £420 for cars and £900 for lorries.

In order to avoid a fine, diesel cars and vans must meet Euro 6 standards– generally registered from September 2015, petrol cars and vans must meet Euro 4 standards – generally registered from January 2006 and HGVs, buses and coaches must comply with Euro VI rules.

Officials believe that with the majority of HGVs, buses and taxis expected to meet the required standards by 2024, many smaller businesses who rely on vans across Edinburgh could have been adversely hit with a citywide LEZ – warning the “environmental benefits wouldn’t outweigh the economic impacts”.

Traffic surveys carried out last year before the pandemic showed heavy goods vehicles were already between 76% and 95% compliant with the requirements and the compliance of vans increased from 7% in 2016 to 48% in 2020.

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A notorious air pollution hotspot on St John’s Road in the west of the city, which has previously been labelled the most toxic road in Scotland, has seen hourly targets for harmful NO2 met for the past four years – but the annual mean targets continue to be broken.

Modelling suggests that due to the natural “cleaning up” of vehicles, the St John’s Road hotspot will see a 40% reduction in NO2 emissions by 2023 and 48% if the citywide LEZ was brought forward.

The council is also considering revoking air quality management areas at Inverleith Row and Great Junction Street after improvements have been made.

The city’s SNP transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, said: “When the evidence came back that said we should only really be looking at the city centre, I was initially very crestfallen because I thought it was something which I thought would be welcome and needed.

“I think I’m comforted by the fact that we know the LEZ is only one tool. There’s a lot more that we can do around changing the face of transport in the city and therefore emissions – this is clearly an important one.”

She added: “That early compliance, which we have seen elsewhere in Europe, is a really important one.“What we are seeing is a cleaning of the fleet by replacement, by upgrading. The Lothian bus fleet has had a massive injection of funds from Scottish Government through the bus emissions abatement retrofitting scheme.

“There’s been quite a lot of activity already around the key sources of pollution and so we are relatively confident that we are moving in the right direction as a city and that the LEZ is helping to drive change now, even before it’s actually been put in place. That makes me more relaxed about the citywide boundary.”

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But air pollution campaigners have warned that only tourists and those well-off enough to live in the city centre will benefit from cleaner air following the change of heart from council bosses.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner, Gavin Thomson said: “The low emission zone for Edinburgh that the council is proposing is a small area covering only the centre of the Old Town, so wealthy residents and tourists will benefit from cleaner air.

“But there is toxic air across the capital, and many communities are sick of waiting for action.”

He added: “It’s great to finally see progress on the zone, but this is not enough.

“Everyone in Edinburgh has a right to breathe safe air now, yet these plans will only begin to clear the air in one part of the city. Young children in Edinburgh will continue to grow up choking on dirty air that is harming their health and their physical development."

“Edinburgh City Council has bold plans to be carbon neutral by 2030. As transport is our biggest source of emissions, this target will only be met by changing the way we move around the city.

“We’ll be asking the Council to consider how the low emission zone could provide the ambition we need, for our health and for the climate.”