A new car free zone in Glasgow city centre has been announced by council leader Susan Aitken as part of a long-term strategy to "give public spaces back to the people".

A core area restricted to public transport will be created within the next five years, stretching from George Square to pollution hot spot Hope Street across Argyle Street and up to Cathedral Street.

The council leader said £30bn will be spent over the next ten years to help achieve an ambitious target of 'net zero living' by 2030.

She said the council had already taken some "tough decisions" around pollution and congestion including Scotland's first Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) and said it wanted to take this a step further.

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She said: "Over the coming days we are going to announce that we have designated a core of our historic city centre from George Square, over to Hope Street where Central Station is, from Cathedral Street to the north to Argyle Street to the south and work towards that being a space entirely free of private cars over the next five years - obviously with caveats for disabled access.

READ MORE: Edinburgh to scale back low emission zone plans 

"This core of Glasgow city centre will be given over entirely to public transport and to people moving actively," said Ms Aitken.

"It's a big step and we don't under-estimate the challenge of making that transition from what has been for far too long a private car dominated city centre.

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"It is something that will have to be delivered in partnership with city centre businesses, which is why we will do it incrementally over the next five years or so.

"But I think it's the kind of ambition that we have to demonstrate. We have to move beyond doing this partially and do it on a bigger sale.

"We need new ideas, a new vision and collaborations to create that better and sustainable life that we envision for everyone in Glasgow."

Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the plan saying it was a "great step forward for Glasgow in the urgent task of reducing climate emissions". 

However, Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said he was extremely disappointed that there was "no consultation" with business and the wider community ahead of today's announcement.

READ MORE: Glasgow city centre 'castles in the sky' providing a quiet life for residents 

He said there was a need for data and evidence to back up the plan, "otherwise this risks becoming a gimmick policy".

Christy Mearns, Green councillor for the city centre, said the proposals must be "as ambitious as possible" but said it was crucial that they were progressed alongside a robust plan to improve public transport affordability and connectivity.

He said this should include the exploration of a free, electric shuttle bus service into the city centre.

European cities with large, car-free areas in their centres include Brussels, Copenhagen and Munich.

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In Oslo, most on-street parking has been replaced with street furniture like benches and mini parks, as well as bike lanes and bigger pavements. Though some businesses feared a loss of trade, the city centre is said to have reported a 10 per cent rise in footfall after the reduction measures.

In Northern Spain, the city of Pontevedra banned cars from its 300,000 square metre medieval centre in the early 2000s, leading to a 70 per cent drop in CO2 emissions.

Ms Aitken made the announcement during a public event which aimed to promote the leading role cities must play in the climate emergency.

She said Glasgow was already taking forward major initiatives including the roll-out of the Avenues Programme, which is re-designing city centre streets to promote active travel and has transformed the lower part of Sauchiehall Street.

READ MORE: Scotland's most polluted streets exposed 

"We've already taken some tough decisions around pollution and congestion including Scotland's first low emissions zone which will remove all but the greenest vehicles by 2023," she said.

"Our Spaces for People project was a major response to Covid as the city re-opened after lockdown to re-prioritise public space and give it to people rather than cars."

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Phase 1 of Glasgow's low emissions zone applies to local service buses only, however all vehicles entering the city centre zone will be required to meet the required emission standards to avoid a penalty unless the vehicle is exempt when Phase 2 is enforced from June 1 2023.

David Lonsdale, Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium said the latest figures showed shopping footfall in the city centre was down 18.4% last month and said "easy and affordable" parking was essential to support retailers.

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are extremely disappointed that there was no prior consultation with business and the wider community before this announcement which, if implemented, will ban private cars from large swathes of the city centre.

“This proposal has not been discussed at the City Centre Taskforce nor was it part of the Council’s own Connectivity Commission which was endorsed by the Chamber and presented a clear transport plan for Glasgow city centre.

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“Many of the infrastructure proposals set out by the Connectivity Commission, which was led by data and evidence and designed to improve pedestrian experience, have yet to be delivered – for example, the full completion of the Avenues programme. 

“Before the city embarks on large scale traffic bans, we need to see the data and evidence that supports this proposal, otherwise this risks becoming a gimmick policy.

“As people and businesses are only too aware, Glasgow city centre is still struggling to recover from the pandemic, and this could be a further blow to the overall economic health of the city centre and the need to support jobs and investment."

“Business is acutely conscious of a just transition to net-zero, but we need policies that that support climate change, not simply blocking access to the hard-pressed city centre and sending customers elsewhere.  

“More than ever, we need to be encouraging people to come into Glasgow City Centre, not drive them away. There needs to be a constructive dialogue with business and full consultation before any large-scale traffic bans are carried forward.”

Hisashi Kuboyama, Federation of Small Businesses development manager for Glasgow, said some businesses might have concerns about staff travel or deliveries.

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He said: "Civic decision-makers have a duty to listen to local firms, take on board fresh ideas or alternative suggestions. Everyone wants Glasgow city centre to remain a great place to do business, but to do that the council will need to genuinely engage with local firms.”

Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University said the plans must consider the effect on retail and tourism.

He said: "Obviously in this period of COP26 we recognise the need to make changes in the way we live our lives but Glasgow has been peculiarly negatively impacted from Covid, more so than other cities across the UK - it's faily well agreed so before we start initiatives like this we need to ensure we help with the recovery.

"It should be a joint policy with joint consensus. We don't get anywhere by springing surprises on people."

It comes after an investigation by The Ferret found almost a third of Scotland’s streets have higher levels of toxic particle air pollution than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The “appalling findings” show the levels of air pollution caused by small particles – known as particulate matter 10 (PM10) and largely due to traffic pollution – increased in 31 per cent of average readings taken this year, when compared with data from 2019.

The readings looked at levels of two of the most common pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and PM10 – which can both have serious health implications, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.

Glasgow’s Hope Street was the only one still breaching legal limits in the 2021 data under this measure.

Prior to 2020 it had broken legal air pollution limits for nine consecutive years. However, the six monthly average in 2021 was lower than in any year apart from 2020 for a decade.