Glasgow’s strict Ulez-style scheme under fire after air pollution rises 10 per cent

sign introducing Glasgow City Council's low emission LEZ zone which takes effect from 1 June 2023
Nitrogen dioxide levels in the city’s Hope Street were up on this time last year, pre-Lez - Garry Cornes / Alamy Stock Photo

Pollution levels of gases linked to traffic rose by about 10 per cent in the centre of Glasgow after the SNP set up a “draconian” Ulez-style scheme, official figures show.

Nitrogen dioxide levels in the city’s Hope Street, which has repeatedly had the country’s worst air quality, were measured at an average of 34 micrograms per cubic metre between June and August this year.

This compared with a figure of 31mg in the same period last year, before the city’s low emission zone (Lez) was introduced – a rise of 9.7 per cent. The legal limit is 40mg.

Levels of another pollutant from motor vehicles, known as fine particulate matter, surged by 11.5 per cent over the same period, from 5.2mg to 5.8mg per cubic metre.

The SNP-run Glasgow City Council said the weather could be responsible for the surge, but the figures prompted further questions about whether cars should be included.

Experts said buses and coaches are the largest polluters and they have been subject to the Lez since the end of 2018. Enforcement of other vehicles started on June 1 this year.

One air quality­ expert, who did not wish to be named, told the Scottish Mail on Sunday: “Buses are the main polluters, hence the reason levels remain more or less the same as before, and therefore y­ou have to question the point of banning cars given all the cost, disruption and inconvenience.”

The Glasgow scheme is stricter than London’s controversial ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) as drivers in older vehicles are banned from entering the city centre, rather than being given the option to pay a daily fee.

An older car entering the zone each day would face penalties of £60, a penalty that doubles with each subsequent breach of rules up to a daily cap of £480 for cars and vans and £960 for buses and HGVs. The fine is reset to £60 if there are no breaches for 90 days.

It emerged last month that the city council was spending £100,000 on renting vehicles to replace those within its fleet that did not comply with the new rules.

Business leaders have led a backlash against the scheme, accusing it of being “draconian”, after the council’s own data suggested it already met air quality standards.

Graham Simpson, the Scottish Tory deputy transport spokesman, said: “Glasgow’s Lez has been ineptly­ introduced and imposed. Those affected will be asking serious questions given it appears to be having little effect on air quality­.

“If the figures are worse, that has to be seen as a failure. It’s had a huge effect on businesses and the very­ least the public deserve is that the environmental benefits outweigh the economic costs.”

William Paton, whose auto-repair centre within the Lez has been badly­ hit by­ the ban on older cars, said: “This latest revelation adds insult to injury­.

“We have known for some time that pollution levels are already­ within legal limits. These statistics show quite clearly­ the Lez is a failure.”

Air pollution levels ‘highly variable’

Glasgow was the first Scottish city to introduce a Lez scheme, with Dundee’s to be enforced from May 30 next year and Aberdeen’s and Edinburgh’s from June 1 2024.

A total of 299 city centre streets are within the perimeter, with number plate recognition cameras installed around the boundary to identify vehicles entering the zone.

The minimum emission standards are Euro 6 for diesel vehicles, generally those registered after September 2015, and Euro 4 for petrol, typically those registered from 2006. Mopeds and motorcycles are exempt.

Glasgow council said the Lez was set up as average annual nitrogen dioxide levels exceeded the “legal objective” and restricting access by vehicles was “a vital step in improving air quality and the health of all those who use the city centre”.

A spokesman said: “Air pollution levels are highly variable and dependent on a number of contributing factors, including weather patterns.

“It will therefore be some time before the benefits of the Lez can be reported, particularly as the main expected benefit relates to the long-term annual average pollution concentrations.”