The council will take forward its plans for a city centre low emission zone (LEZ) in Edinburgh when it meets next week, banning petrol cars older than 2006 and diesel cars registered before 2015 from a defined area.

Edinburgh is one of four Scottish cities which The Scottish Government has empowered to introduce the measures intended to protect public health by reducing harmful emissions.

The LEZ will be introduced in spring 2022, but with enforcement to follow in 2024. By allowing a grace period the council hopes it will encourage motorists and other drivers to “do the right thing”, but allows businesses and individuals a period of transition to prepare. The Transport and Environment Convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes was at pains to point out that this is not a revenue generating exercise for the council. rather a means of improving air quality in the city. At least 300 deaths each year in Scotland are estimated to be a direct result of air pollution.

The logic of adopting a city centre only approach, rather than a citywide approach, seems strange, and rather hard to grasp. The Edinburgh Reporter asked Transport and Environment Convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes to expand on the reasons for the restricted area.

The citywide boundary which was originally proposed only included a ban on certain commercial vehicles within the proposed restrictions, and not all vehicles of every class which the city centre scheme will when introduced next year.

Cllr Macinnes said: “We are fully expecting the rest of the city to benefit from the changes, not just the city centre.

“It is a really interesting answer. When we first kicked this project off I was the first one to say that it should be city wide. My assumption at that point – and that is several years ago – was that a city wide zone would be good for the city. However we also agreed that we had to take an evidence led modelling of what the position is. So there has been a lot of extensive work done with SEPA for example.”

The evidence led approach is required by the National Low Emission Framework which sets out the methodology behind air quality assessment in Scotland.

Cllr Macinnes continued: “Our understanding of exactly where we can gain the greatest benefit has resulted in the same city boundary that came out much earlier in the process. I must confess I was quite disappointed when we reached that conclusion. The natural assumption is that the wider the area the more effective it is going to be.

“But in fact when you look at the city centre for example, virtually every bus operating in the city will have to go through the city centre at some point. A lot of the HGV and LGV fleets will also have to service central Edinburgh. By default if they have to be vehicles of a certain standard to gain entry then it will benefit the rest of the city as well. We understand that Lothian is going to be fully compliant by the end of this year.

“Their buses do not operate only in the city centre, they will be in the suburbs and on St John’s Road which was always an area of concern but is now improving largely due to the improvement in the bus fleet. So there are changes going on that say to us and where the evidence demonstrates – looking also at the Air Quality Management Areas – where the best place to put the boundary is to gain maximum impact. That is why the city centre boundary has been chosen.”

The council agreed in June to put forward the city centre scheme for a full twelve week consultation period. There were more than 5,000 responses to that consultation, and the council admits these views on how it will be implemented were mixed, but there was broad support for the introduction of such a measure. The LEZ was intended to be in place by now but the pandemic affected the timeline. Much discussion has already taken place and the council committed to introducing an LEZ in its new City Mobility Plan agreed earlier this year. The LEZ is an important part of the Mobility Plan which involves a move to low emission transport and an expansion of active travel.

Transport Vice Convener, Cllr Karen Doran, said: “This report outlines the many measures that will be taken as we continue to develop the LEZ ahead of its introduction next spring to ensure it works for everyone, while doing the essential job of limiting air pollution in the city.

“This is central to our plans to deliver a more sustainable, environmentally friendly transport future in Edinburgh.”

ENFORCEMENT

Although the scheme will be introduced in 2022, enforcement will not begin until 2024 to allow motorists time to change over to a newer vehicle if they really need to access the city centre LEZ. Signage will also be required to divert any motorists who are not driving compliant or exempt vehicles. Lothian Buses has already confirmed that their fleet will comply with the emissions requirements by the end of 2021. The list of exemptions for certain vehicles can be found here.

There are an estimated 16,000 diesel cars in Edinburgh which do not comply with the new emissions requirements.

There is Energy Saving Trust funding available for anyone who wants or requires to change their vehicle and further details are here. If you live within 20km of a planned low emission zone then you may be eligible for support to move to a newer compliant vehicle. There are also funds available for purchasing electric vehicles.

The main method of enforcement will be new cameras using number plate recognition. Some will be sited on main entry points in to the city centre and will be supplemented by mobile vans.

The first level of fine will be similar to a parking charge and will be £60 reduced to £30 for payment within 30 days. Higher charges will apply to HGVs and buses.

The development of the LEZ is funded by The Scottish Government with a contribution of £1,045,000 in this financial year. Further funding will be made available for next year and grant funding will be made available for enforcement and communications. Any other costs will fall to the council and will be covered to an extent by revenue generated by enforcement. But the council does not anticipate that the revenue will cover all operational costs likely to be in the region of £400,000. Any funding gap will have to be absorbed by the council.

The Transport and Environment Committee will meet on 26 October at 1.30 when this will be the main item on the agenda. If approved by the committee the next step for this Final Scheme is to enter a 28 day statutory period for objections which could lead to a determination by Scottish Ministers.

Watch the meeting online here.