The Return of Auld Reekie

Many residents will have experienced choking traffic fumes from time to time as they walk and cycle through the city.  Steve BurgegssThe air quality in some “hotspots” in Edinburgh is actually so poor that it is officially breaking air pollution safety standards set by the World Health Organisation.  What’s worse, the City Council is facing fines from the EU if it doesn’t clean up its act by 2015.  So we may have to pay for the privilege of breathing in polluted air.

The main pollutant is nitrogen dioxide from vehicle exhaust fumes and is linked to breathing difficulties.  But tiny particles called “PM10s”, are also dangerously high in some parts of the city.

Although the Council is responsible for air quality in Edinburgh it has so far failed to bring pollution to within safe limits and the problem is growing.  For many years now parts of the city centre, Corstophine and Great Junction Street in Leith have breached safety standards.  But just recently the Council quietly announced to the Transport-Environment committee, which I serve on, that several other areas – including Southside, Gorgie, Inverleith and Tollcross – had been added to the list of pollution hotspots.

In response I have called for the urgent adoption of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) where only less polluting vehicles are allowed to enter but the Council has stalled the process, preferring to see Scottish Government approval.  This is expected some time next year: another year closer to 2015 and the prospect of fines.

It remains to be seen whether LEZs can be brought in and whether they will be enough to improve air quality as pollution continues to spread.  There is talk that the City Council may even have to try again with a congestion charge in order to get vehicle pollution in the City to within safe limits.

It seems that Edinburgh’s reputation as “Auld Reekie” is not consigned to the history books.