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FERGUS EWING: Does Inverness need to be a low emissions zone?

By Fergus Ewing

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Academy Street is one of Inverness's busiest roads.
Academy Street is one of Inverness's busiest roads.

Low emission zones (LEZs) have been hailed as a way to reduce urban air pollution. They are already in force in London and Glasgow. Other Scottish cities are set to follow suit. Now they are being mooted for our own city here in Inverness.

Some may question whether the serious levels of emissions in central London and Glasgow are matched here; and others whether the science behind LEZs stacks up and is properly evidence-based.

But set these arguments aside for a moment. There is a much more basic problem. Quite simply, LEZs hit the poorest hardest and so are regressive: a kind of poll tax for wheels – because they are paid by those with older cars. Those who can afford new ones pay zero. And older vehicles will generally be owned by people less well-off who can’t begin to afford prices for new cars.

The backlash against the LEZ in London is believed to be why the Labour party failed to win a recent by-election from the Tories.

Yet they are now being proposed by some (including its most ardent enthusiasts, the Greens) for Inverness. Surely this ignores the challenges that are faced by many working families?

Bustling cities in the central belt have good public transport. Most have a choice of bus, tube or rail or even trams! But in rural areas in the Highlands with little or no public transport, people rely on their cars. For normal working families living in this region, the prospect of restricted access to their own vehicles poses a real threat to their livelihoods.

It would risk closing off the city centre here to many less well-off, hard-working people. How could that be possibly justified? City centre shops, bars and restaurants would see fewer customers, and have more difficulty recruiting staff.

The Hearach is here

Great news this week that the Isle of Harris Distillery is to launch its single malt whisky The Hearach. It is also, next month, to bottle its millionth bottle of the award-winning Isle of Harris gin.

I remember working as business minister 12 years ago with HIE boss Alex Paterson, a good friend to the Highlands. He agreed to provide grant support for the building of new distilleries in the islands and remoter Highland mainland. A solid sound public investment it has proved to be.

About £3 million in grants were received by Isle of Harris. Its now a terrific success, employing 45 people – a lot for Harris – and attracting around 100,000 visitors a year and their turnover will double to about £8 million. As boss Simon Erlanger said, it's the end of the beginning and a new era. I say it’s a great modern Highland success story. Slainte!

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