Zone must allow business room to breathe | Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
Stuart Patrick, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
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Zone must allow business room to breathe

By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce  

It is now under a month until the introduction of the next phase of Glasgow City Council’s City Centre Low Emission Zone.  We can be sure that there will be considerable heat generated in the weeks ahead and it would be helpful if both sides in the argument acknowledged the context. Sadly, the issue has moved from being a technical intervention to tackle poor air quality into a typical political stand-off.

On the one hand Glasgow Chamber has supported the concept of the Low Emission Zone simply because in some parts of the city centre air quality was demonstrably breaching legal standards set out in the European Ambient Air Quality Directive and incorporated in UK law.  Hope Street in particular was well above the limits. We were persuaded action was needed because the data was provided that showed exactly the scale and location of the problem.

But it was not just the legalities that mattered to us. We want the city centre jammed full of people from all across the region whether to work, learn or take time off to enjoy all the services a good city centre should offer. Good air quality must surely be one feature that makes that more likely.

June 1st is not the start of Glasgow’s LEZ; a first phase affecting buses was introduced in 2019. Bus companies invested substantially in their fleets to bring all buses that enter the LEZ up to the required Euro VI emission standard. In January this year it was widely reported that in 2022 the whole of Scotland - including Hope Street - had met air pollution limits. The Glasgow LEZ must take some of the credit for that. But if we have already met the standards it is also fair to ask how we are to judge the success of the next phase. What are the ultimate targets for our LEZ?

But while we have supported the aims of the LEZ, the Chamber does not support using it as a political measure to drive all private cars from the city centre. Some of the LEZ advertising tells us that all vehicles will be subject to restrictions without being explicit that most vehicles already meet the standard. Nor is it making clear the available exemptions, including for the disabled. The Chamber is hearing the anxieties being expressed by our members at the impact this messaging could have.

Footfall is still around 10% below pre-pandemic levels and some signals are suggesting the cost of living crisis is likely to make that worse in the coming months. If the LEZ simply chases customers away to other locations around the region, we fear there will be yet more empty shops, restaurants and office units to add to an already alarmingly high stock.

I know there are some politicians who would indeed like to use the LEZ to persuade all car drivers not to come into the city centre and to use public transport or active travel options instead. But that raises an even more fundamental concern that the Chamber has. Ever since the publication of the City Council’s Connectivity Commission report in April 2019, we have supported its conclusions arguing for radical improvements in public transport. More specifically we have raised our voice in support of the Clyde Metro and the Glasgow Bus Partnership.

Neither of these projects appear to be moving at pace. The Metro is often described by transport officials as a thirty-year project, which hardly suggests the same urgency as is being applied to the introduction of the LEZ. I have also heard well-informed suggestions that attempts by the Bus Partnership to access Scottish Government funding are bogged down in bureaucratic processes. Much has changed since the pandemic but decisions on public transport systems seem to be just as slow as ever.

The Chamber will continue to support the aims of the LEZ but our support will wilt if we don’t see thoughtful flexibilities in its evolution and fresh urgency in delivering investment in our public transport system.

This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 3 May 2023

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