THE Scottish Government is to face a court challenge to stop motorists being fined for entering Scotland's major centres through Low Emission Zones following concerns the penalties are unfair.

It comes after campaigners welcomed the sanctioning of a judicial review over the first scheme being brought in Glasgow by the city council after judge confirmed that it complied with the "real prospect of success" test set down in law.  

They believe a bid to stop older vehicles entering Scotland's major centres through LEZs has received a major blow in the granting of the court challenge over the Glasgow scheme.

And they are now to challenge ministers targetting what they believe is an "illegal" and "disproportionate" system of motorist fines set by the Scottish Government for those breaching LEZ which is set to be established across Scotland.  

They believe if it is successful it would put paid to the enforcement of LEZ schemes.

The fines system was set in place through the Low Emission Zones (Emission Standards, Exemptions and Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2021.

READ MORE: Hospitality leaders join campaign against Glasgow low emission zone

Enforcement using the penalty charges structure has already begun in Glasgow from the start of June, and is expected to be brought in in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen in June, next year.

Glasgow City Council was accused of "profiteering" as it was set to bring in £600,000 in fines in the first two months of imposing penalties on drivers entering the LEZ.

The Herald: .

The number of sanctions imposed after enforcement started in June has doubled in a month.

Some 5,933 penalty charge notices were issued to cars being driven into the LEZ in July - after just 2922 in June.

It means that almost 150 drivers a day are being sanctioned financially for entering the LEZ zone.

Lady Poole, one of the newest Court of Session and High Court judges gave permission for the judicial review of the Glasgow scheme pushed forward by the city council to go ahead - even though it was lodged outside of a time limit.

She said, in a ruling seen by the Herald, that the most significant factor that supported allowing the application was that it "raises an important matter of public interest". She said that interest included the "wider issues of air quality and climate change which underlie the matters challenged... and the legality of the scheme".

William Paton, director of a city repair centre, who is fronting the challenges said Lady Poole's commentary, revealed in court papers seen by the Herald was a "big deal" and gave real hope that the Glasgow scheme could be quashed.

At the centre of city council challenge are concerns that the extension of the LEZ to cover cars was not required - because an initial phase directed at buses had already proved effective in meeting the legal standards.

Mr Paton, who is leading the LEZ Fightback campaign, says this renders the scheme "illegal and irrational".

The Herald:

In the UK, the law on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution – one of the most harmful pollutants – says annual average concentrations cannot exceed 40 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air).

According to the Scottish Government's air quality database the the annual mean at the eight monitoring sites around Glasgow never exceeded 40 µg/m3 in 2022.  The LEZ was extended to cars from December 31 of that year.

 The highest mean concentrations were Glasgow Central Station with 39.1, while Byres Road was 25.3, Dumbarton Road was at 24.4, and Nithsdale Road was 22.1. The lowest concentrations were at Anderston where it was 21.6, High Street (20.9), Great Western Road (19.8) and Townhead (16.8).

In 2021,  one of the eight was above the legal limit - Glasgow Central Station at 45.1.

Mr Paton believes the new challenge of the Scottish Government's legislation over the fines - would kill off LEZ schemes at its root.

"Without the fines, there are no LEZ schemes," said the director of Patons Auto Repair Centre "It can be shown that in 2022 the air quality targets were met. They achieved the goals," he said.

Glasgow’s scheme works differently from the clean air zones in Bath, Bristol and Birmingham, plus London’s ULEZ, because while those cities allow drivers to pay a fee of between £8 and £12.50 to enter, Glasgow’s LEZ bans older, more polluting cars outright in a model that is being copied in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

The Herald:

The square mile city centre LEZ zone is aimed at improving Glasgow’s air quality and unlike other UK cities has a fine structure working on an escalating scale.

When the LEZ zone was launched campaigners hailed the move as a “big moment” for the city that will save lives by giving residents “more breathable air”.

Mr Paton added: "I think that Lady Poole's judgment shows that there are legitimate arguments and we are thrilled with that.

"She seemed to be interested in the fines and so we have decided to challenge the Scottish Government on that, which would bring in the Lord Advocate.

"The reason for it, is that this all hits those who can least afford it. You cannot have such fines particularly in a cost of living crisis, when the air is fine."

Road transport is estimated to be responsible for about 50% of total emissions of nitrogen oxides, which means that nitrogen dioxide levels are highest close to busy roads and in large urban areas. Gas boilers in buildings are also a source of nitrogen oxides.

When the first low-emission zone in Scotland was introduced in Glasgow from December 31, 2018, it was directed at buses.

Phase Two directed at cars came into effect in December 2022 while the scheme was enforced through fines by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) from the start of June, this year.

The escalating fines starting at £60 if their vehicles enter the area and do not meet emission standards - with petrol cars older than 2006 and diesel cars registered after September 2015 generally compliant. A second offence will see a penalty of £120 applied, a third £240, and the fourth maximum fine is £480.

The council says it is only aimed at a minority of older vehicles which are the most polluting - with up to 90% of cars thought to already meet the requirements.

It says that all revenue incurred in running Glasgow's LEZ scheme itself, will only be used for activities that help reduce air pollution or contribute toward achieving our climate change targets.

But it has been heavily criticised by representatives from the hospitality and taxi trades who warn it could hammer the city’s beleaguered night-time economy - still reeling from Covid and the cost of living crisis.

Glasgow City Council said that to allow a period of familiarisation to the fines during its first month of operatio in June, non-compliant vehicles detected in Glasgow's LEZ received a maximum of one Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) in June 2023.

In June and July, 8078 drivers have received a £60 fine for breaching the Glasgow zone.

The Herald:

Of the total number of fines issued for July, some 777 were issued for repeat LEZ contraventions, meaning that the penalty charge rate was subject to a surcharge.

Of those, 689 were for a second breach, meaning a penalty rate of £120 and 87 had a £240 fine for a third contravention.

One received a £480 penalty for a fourth breach.

Fines are being capped at £480 for cars and light goods vehicles and £960 for buses and HGVs.

A fightback fund set up to get the "best possible legal minds" to fight the case against LEZ reached nearly £50,000 on Friday.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment further until the judicial review process has concluded.”

A city council spokesman said: “The council is satisfied that it correctly assessed available air quality data when taking the decision to implement LEZ Phase 2.

“As we understand, the court has not made any comment about the likely outcome of the litigation nor would it prior to hearing from parties at the forthcoming coming substantive hearing.

“We will vigorously contest this case in court. It is inappropriate to comment any further on live, legal proceedings.”