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Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th October 2019.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Amendments 49 and 55 will strengthen low-emission zones. When the First Minister declared a climate emergency she said that every policy area must be looked at, but that does not seem to have included the Transport (Scotland) Bill and, in particular, low-emission zones. When taking evidence on the bill, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee was told that LEZs are the one clear measure in the bill that could make a real difference to emissions. However, despite the fact that this year’s programme for government included a commitment to

“consult on Scotland’s ambition to make the transformative shift to zero or ultra-low emission city centres by 2030”,

the bill as it stands does not allow for the creation of ultra-low-emission zones. C ity centres and other areas with particularly severe air pollution problems will not be able to go any further than those dealing with more moderate air pollution issues.

If the Government is serious about the commitment in the programme for government, local authorities should have the power to introduce targeted ultra-low-emission zones in the parts of their area with the most severe air pollution. Amendment 55 would allow that, subject to ministerial sign-off. That added layer of scrutiny will ensure that the power is not used inappropriately. Failure to agree to the amendment means that the programme for government commitment is an empty promise.

With regard to amendment 49, the recent review of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy described LEZs as

“a necessary and important commitment in delivering cleaner air”,

particularly with regard to air quality management areas, stating that

“AQMAs can and need to be operated more effectively and overall this, with effective LEZ implementation, will lead to necessary further improvements in air quality in the next three to five years”.

Given the clear role for LEZs in air quality management areas

, their implementation should not be optional but should be the default position. Amendment 49 would make that the case. However, I have suggested a commonsense provision to give the Scottish ministers the power to waive that requirement, so that if the breach in air pollution was clearly an anomaly or the local authority was able to illustrate how it was otherwise dealing with the issue, it would be exempt.

The two amendments in my name will ensure that the bill reflects the severity and urgency of the climate emergency that we are facing and that the eventual legislation is fit for purpose in the long run and is flexible enough to meet our changing needs.

Amendment 135, in the name of Jamie Greene, introduces a clear statutory purpose for LEZs, and is similar to an amendment that I lodged at stage 2. It implements a unanimous recommendation by all members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in our stage 1 report, and I am happy to support that amendment.

Although LEZs can deliver a wide range of social and environmental benefits, we should be clear that, fundamentally, they must deliver a reduction in transport-related emissions. Placing the provisions of amendment 135 in the bill ensures that LEZs must be developed in line with that aim.

I am also happy to support amendment 54, in the name of the cabinet secretary, which reflects the role that LEZs have to play in helping Scotland to meet its climate change targets.

Transport is Scotland’s biggest emitter and is responsible for more than a third of all our greenhouse gases. Mechanisms such as LEZs should help to deliver national priorities as well as tackling local issues. Let us strengthen them today to ensure that we achieve that.