Scottish ministers have sought to allay concerns from MSPs over the proposed timescales for the rollout of low emission zones in four Scottish cities by the end of the decade.
Concerns were aired during a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (17 April) in which MSPs discussed the findings of a report by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on the Scottish Governmentâ€™s â€˜Cleaner Air for Scotlandâ€™ Strategy.
Within the report, published in February, the Committee raised concerns over the â€˜tight timescalesâ€™ set out for the introduction of the four zones, as well as pointing to a potential shortage of resources for the local authorities tasked with overseeing the introduction of the LEZs.
Glasgow has been identified as the first Scottish city to introduce a LEZ, starting from the end of the year, which will initially target improvements in the emissions of the cities bus fleet, rolled out gradually until 2022.
Other cities including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are expected to have similar zones in place by 2020 to address air quality â€“ although the exact scope of the LEZs will be determined individually by each of the city authorities.
Further LEZs may be established in existing Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) from 2023, if these are likely to help bring about further improvements in air quality, environment minister Roseanna Cunningham confirmed.
During yesterdayâ€™s debate, the Committee chair, SNP MSP Graeme Day, alongside his Conservative and Labour colleagues, Donald Cameron and David Stewart highlighted evidence presented to the Committee which questioned the approach adopted by the Scottish Government.
Mr Cameron said: â€œWe believe timescales for implementation of LEZs should be clear and realistic to allow sufficient time for industry, residents and small business to adapt. We also believe that the government must ensure plans for other LEZs are properly articulated and communicated but are also practical and achievable.â€
His concerns were echoed by Mr Stewart, who added: â€œDonald Cameron mentioned the evidence from McGills Bus Services and if I can quote this evidence there was concern it would be bankrupt as a result of a last minute LEZ scheme when planning and communication should have taken place five years ago and also highlighted the additional costs for retrofitted vehicles that would bring in fares going up to meet these additional costs.â€
Responding to the comments from MSPs, Scotlandâ€™s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said that the Scottish Government is supporting local authorities in the rollout of LEZs through a nationally coordinated steering group, whilst adding that he expected the requirements of the LEZs to be phased in over gradually, rather than â€˜overnightâ€™.
Referring specifically to Glasgowâ€™s proposals, he said: â€œSometimes there is some confusion around the introduction of LEZs, which is by the end of 2018 if we are talking about Glasgow. Itâ€™s worth saying that there is a difference between the introduction of that LEZ and the lead in times and the phasing in of the zone. For the lead in time they have a percentage of buses to Euro VI every year with cars dovetailing in at the end of that.â€
Issues around available funding to local authorities were addressed separately by Ms Cunningham, who told MSPs that the Scottish Government is seeking to increase the money available to local authorities and government agencies to address air pollution.
She said: â€œThe Scottish Government budget includes new funding of Â£10.8 million per year to support Low Emission Zone work. The budget also confirms a doubling of air quality monitoring funding from Â£0.5 million to Â£1 million per year. The overall air quality budget now stands at Â£4.5 million per year.
â€œThe intention is to allocate around 70% of the Low Emission Zone funding, that is about Â£7.8 million to support our bus industry to prepare for low emission zones and we believe that such funding will be enough to support the retrofitting of over 300 hundred buses in Glasgow which is over 40% of the city centre fleet.â€