Air quality: minister's statement

Cabinet Secretary for Environment Roseanna Cunningham addresses the Scottish Parliament on the issue of air quality and low-emission zones.

Overall Scotland's air quality is good, but we have a number of localised hotspots in some of our towns and cities where additional action is required. We are working closely with local authorities and other partners to tackle these.

We are very clear on our vision for air quality in Scotland. We want Scotland's to be the best in Europe.

Air pollution remains a significant public health and social justice issue. Improving air quality is important for the contribution it makes to everyone's quality of life. For some groups in society – the very young and old, and those with existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions – it is even more fundamental. There is no doubt that improving air quality will result in improved health, while also delivering more attractive places for living, working and enjoying recreation.

The evidence on health impacts shows that poor air quality reduces average life expectancy in Scotland by three to four months. While this may be lower than elsewhere in the UK, it is still unacceptable.

Action is required.

The Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy sets out an ambitious work programme to deliver further air quality improvements.

Earlier this year, the first National Clean Air Day was successfully staged. During it we published the first Cleaner Air for Scotland progress report, setting out actions that have already been delivered and the current status of other actions to enhance our air quality.

In that strategy we set out our ambition for low-emission zones (LEZs) to be in place by 2020. We have since stepped up that ambition significantly.

LEZs set minimum emission standards for vehicle access to a defined area. We want LEZs to help us achieve, and go beyond, statutory air quality requirements. In particular we believe that LEZs should focus on nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, two pollutants of special concern for human health.

In last year's Programme for Government we committed to put in place the first LEZ by 2018. In this year's programme, we have gone further and committed to establishing LEZs in each of our four biggest cities between 2018 and 2020.

By 2023 this will be extended into other air quality management areas where the National Low Emission Framework demonstrates their value.

Delivering multiple LEZs across Scotland is ambitious. It represents the largest ever programme of transport-based air quality mitigation in Scotland.

We are also working to further improve air quality by reducing vehicle exhaust emissions. The Programme for Government sets a bold new ambition on ultra low-emission vehicles, including electric cars and vans, with a target to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032.

We will expand the electric vehicle charging network, support innovative approaches and encourage the public sector to lead the way. The ambition is underpinned by our recently published Switched on Scotland action plan, and builds on the range of incentives we already provide to local authorities, businesses and individuals.

Delivery of these ambitions requires clear structures to maximise the benefits of this partnership. We have engaged with Glasgow and Edinburgh Councils to establish LEZ delivery groups. We have also contacted Aberdeen and Dundee City Councils to discuss how similar groups could be established for their cities.

The delivery groups will be supported by an independent senior scientific practitioner who will offer a critical challenge function around the delivery of LEZs.

We will also create a LEZ Leadership Group across the four cities to ensure that knowledge-sharing happens in a co-ordinated and constructive way, so that nationally consistent standards are applied and lessons shared. This will be a ministerially led group and, with the Minister for Transport and the Islands, I have written to invite these councils to join the group.

The decision on LEZ locations and design will be led by local authorities in partnership with the Scottish Government and Regional Transport Partnerships. I look forward to announcing shortly the first zone. This will build on that Council's assessment of the evidence base which has been developed in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Transport Scotland. I know that councils are supportive of this evidence – both in assessing needs and supporting their assessment of community and business engagement in demonstrating benefits.

That evidence will be critical in determining which type of vehicles should be restricted and when – each area will have its own specific requirements.

On 6 September, we launched the LEZ consultation; this is open until 28 November. The consultation gives us the opportunity to seek views and opinions from business, the general public and other interested parties on issues that will shape our LEZ guiding principles. These will ultimately aid local authorities in the design, establishment and operation of Scottish LEZs in a consistent manner.

Initial media reports suggested the immediate banning of cars and buses in 2018. This is inaccurate and misleading, and also missed many of the key points that we need to get across as to benefits and managing change.

We are proposing that local authorities identify specific vehicle types that would not be allowed to enter a LEZ. This would mean that such vehicles would be subject to a financial penalty if they illegally entered a zone. We want to avoid such breaches.

This is quite different to the approach that is used in other parts of the UK, where a road charge can be paid to enter. This road pricing idea is not the approach being suggested for Scotland.

Stakeholder engagement during the consultation's development was very clear around the need for robust lead-in periods. Lead-in times would allow commercial fleet operators and private vehicle owners time to prepare and manage the change as part of fleet management.

The proposal is that a lead-in period would start once a local authority declared a LEZ design and location, with the lead-in time running for a period after the LEZ is established.

European LEZs have set variable timeframes for lead-in times, typically from one to four years. We want to hear the views of a wide range of stakeholders on these very important and practical issues.

A phased introduction of inclusion of vehicle types into a LEZ is expected. Local authorities may decide to include private cars, as is their right, at some point if they believe that such emission sources are significant enough to warrant inclusion. The precise arrangements will be in city-specific design plans.

I would like to draw particular attention to our bus sector, which has been, and will continue to be, an integral partner in assisting this Government to improve air quality. Buses are a key solution to our air quality challenges, offering commuters an alternative to the private car. They are not villains – clean, low-emission buses are an opportunity.

Encouraging behaviour change to move people out of cars and into efficient and low-emission buses will help reduce both congestion and emissions at the same time.

These things must go hand in hand, and the first LEZ will act as a case study in how the two issues can interact.

We will shortly be announcing the winners of the seventh round of the Scottish Green Bus Fund. This will bring forward another 47 low-emission buses.

Beyond that, the Programme for Government outlined our ambition in terms of extending Government support to accelerate the industry's move towards buying the lowest-emitting buses. These new buses mean a step change in emissions performance with a better offer for passengers, making buses an attractive mode of choice.

In the short term, to address the air quality challenge, we are exploring options to support the sector this financial year. This would be targeted at bus retrofitting. We are engaging with the sector to better understand the technological opportunities and challenges that retrofitting will bring.

We believe that LEZs should also interact with a host of other transport polices. These include actions to tackle congestion, supporting modal shift towards more active travel and public transport, delivering climate change mitigation and supporting planners in making our town and city spaces more pleasant spaces to live, work and spend leisure time.

LEZs will be designed on the basis of clear evidence which identifies the air quality issues in a given location and the specific vehicle types that cause air pollution. This will allow the size of the zone and the delivery requirements to be determined and established.

We are conscious that designing LEZs must consider potential knock-on effects. For example, we must be alive to the displacement of air pollution to other areas. We must ensure that LEZs are delivered in an equitable manner, and consider equality issues, particularly for communities who rely on public transport to move around our towns and cities.

On funding, investment will be considered within the forthcoming spending review. Costs associated with LEZs, such as enforcement and retrofitting grants, will depend on the type and scale of the LEZs, as decided by the local authorities.

Protecting people is at the heart of this. We want their views. It will benefit them but also have some impacts associated with practical implementation. Success will enhance the quality of life where people live and work. It will enhance the attractiveness of these areas for investment.

I ask Members to help highlight the opportunities that well-designed LEZs bring and to encourage constituents to respond to the 'Building Scotland's Low-Emission Zone' consultation.

The public is a key partner in our work to promote air quality, and will be the principal beneficiary.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
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