City Council Complacent on Air Pollution

The City Council needs a lot more urgency on air pollution argues Chas Booth.

Figures released yesterday (11 January) following a BBC Scotland investigation into air pollution show a woeful complacency on the part of Edinburgh Council to this serious problem.

The figures come from a BBC documentary, due to be shown on 13 January, and show that Edinburgh has failed to use its powers to assess vehicle emissions, despite having some of the most polluted streets in the country, and despite being in breach of statutory guidelines on clean air.

So while Glasgow council used its powers to test nearly 3,000 vehicles in the last year, Edinburgh tested precisely none. Considering vehicles are a major source of both nitrogen dioxide and particulates, two of the main pollutants in our air, this is potentially a serious omission.

However, this is just the latest of a series of failures by the Labour-SNP Council in the capital to take air pollution seriously. That’s why I tabled an emergency motion at today’s (12 January) Transport and Environment Committee seeking a full review of action to tackle the problem. The full text of my emergency motion is below. Astonishingly, the Labour convener of the committee ruled my motion ‘not an emergency’ so it was not debated.

I believe the lack of testing is symptomatic of Edinburgh’s complacency and lack of proactive action in tackling air pollution. The links between poor air quality and ill health are clear, and have been backed up by numerous academic studies, including by eminent Scottish scientists. Greens have consistently pushed for more action on air pollution, and have been consistently rebuffed by the Labour-SNP administration in the capital.

The council seems to be paying lip service to the issue. We now need to see specific and focused action from Edinburgh Council to tackle this serious problem. If Edinburgh doesn’t want to use its roadside testing powers it needs to come forward with alternative suggestions to combat the problem, including looking at low emission zones, which we suggested as long ago as 2013.

More fundamentally, the city needs to start looking at the causes of air pollution when it is weighing up major planning or development proposals. We need consistency of planning and environmental policy: there is not point going to great lengths to reduce emissions from transport if our planning decisions force more and more people to use the private car.

And crucially, we need to know:

  • Why Edinburgh has apparently not used its powers to do roadside testing
  • Why it has apparently not applied to the Scottish Government’s £500,000 fund set aside for roadside testing.

On the latter point it appears that the Labour Transport convener was unaware of the existence of this fund, replying to a question on BBC Good Morning Scotland yesterday with the line, “Well it would be interesting to know what cash is available for this testing.”  We really should expect better.


1. August 2014 – Green amendment at Transport & Environment Committee asked for “additional measures” to ensure we meet EU air quality limits. Rejected by 12 votes to 2.

2. August 2013 – Green amendment at Transport & Environment Committee asked for a report “setting out the options for more rapid improvements in air quality, including but not limited to options for low emission zones.” Rejected by 11 votes to 2.


4.  Emergency motion tabled by Green Group at Edinburgh Council Transport and Environment Committee, 12 January 2016:


Transport and Environment Committee

12 January 2016

Emergency motion by Green Group

Roadside emissions testing and air pollution

This committee:

1)            Notes with concern figures released on 11 January 2016 following a BBC Scotland investigation into air pollution which found that only 13 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities carry out roadside emissions testing;

2)            Notes that Edinburgh has powers under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (Scotland) Regulations of 2003 to carry out roadside emissions testing, but has not used these powers;

3)            Notes that Glasgow Council uses these powers and has tested 2,926 vehicles in 2014-15 and that Dundee Council has applied to the Scottish Government £0.5m fund to undertake roadside emissions testing but that Edinburgh has not applied to this fund;

4)            Notes that the last report on air quality in Edinburgh, published by the council in August 2015, found that Edinburgh breached statutory air quality standards for annual mean concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at 20 monitoring locations across the city.

5)            Believes there is significant evidence linking poor air quality with ill health;

6)            Believes the council should take a consistent approach to tackling air pollution, including to the air pollution impacts of new planning or development proposals;

7)            Therefore agrees to receive an urgent report at the next meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee which:

  1. reviews action taken by the council to tackle air pollution to date;
  2. reviews why no funding applications have been made by the council to the Scottish Government to undertake roadside emissions testing under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (Scotland) Regulations of 2003 and sets out the likely costs and benefits of undertaking such testing; and
  3. sets out options for additional action to ensure the city complies with statutory air quality standards as soon as possible.

Moved by            Chas Booth

Seconded by       Nigel Bagshaw