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Vehicle ban proposed for Academy Street in Inverness after it was revealed as the fourth most polluted road in Scotland

By Ian Duncan

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Old vehicles and those belching out the highest levels of dangerous fumes should be banned from Academy Street environmental campaigners say.

Friends of the Earth Scotland (FOE) says traffic is to blame, and one way to solve the problem would be to make the area a Low Emission Zone (LEZ).

It found Academy Street had dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – on average, 43.2mcg per cubic metre. European air quality directives set down a limit of 40mcg.

Speaking exclusively to the Courier, FoE’s air pollution lead Gavin Thomson said: “Traffic is the key cause of Inverness’s pollution problems so the council needs to act to keep the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted places.

“An effective way of doing this would be to create a strong LEZ which protects the public from toxic traffic fumes. These zones work by preventing the oldest, dirtiest vehicles from entering a specific area or they could face a fine.

“There are over 200 LEZs across European towns and cities, and Scotland should have four up and running by the end of this year.”

Scotland’s first LEZ was introduced in Glasgow city centre on December 31, 2018.

It is being gradually phased in so by the end of 2022, all vehicles entering the zone will have to meet specified emissions standards. Those which do not will be fined.

Mr Thomson added: “In addition to an LEZ, the local authority must work to reduce car use in the city centre by making walking and cycling the easy choice for everyone who is able.

“The Transport Bill passed last year also gives councils the power to run their own bus services which can help improve their affordability and reliability.”

Potentially more controversially for the Highlands, he also suggested scrapping “needless” road expansion schemes, such as the dualling of the A96.

“We are all at risk from toxic traffic pollution but children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable,” he said.

“By ending the choke-hold of cars on our public spaces, we can open up our streets to walking and cycling and create healthier, safer communities.”

Dr Katie Walter, of the city’s Cairn Medical Practice, agreed air pollution was a serious issue and action needed to be taken sooner rather than later.

Also a member of Highland Doctors for Climate Action, she quoted figures from the Royal College of Physicians linking 40,000 deaths a year to air pollution and 13 per cent of childhood asthmas.

“This is an emergency – an emergency we need to respond to quickly,” she said.

“Given the fact that we have the fourth most polluted street in the country, I think it’s difficult to claim that we don’t have a pollution problem. The issues with air pollution are very well recorded.”

A spokesman for Highland Council said the local authority was overseeing a number of ongoing projects which promoted active travel, including the use of electric vehicles and alternative transport links, and cast doubt on the Academy Street data.

He said: “Initial observations at a local level have suggested the increase in NO2 levels could be temporary as a result of ongoing resurfacing in Academy Street which has reduced access to single lanes, which is possibly creating congestion and queuing on adjoining streets in the air quality management area.

“The ongoing works are incorporating repairs to reinstate the traffic lights management system which was damaged.

“This system is designed to intelligently monitor traffic flow and control traffic lights to minimise stationary traffic which will help further reduce air pollution.”

However, a year ago members of the Highland Cycle Campaign flagged up concerns about pollution in Academy Street after it used a portable air monitor to test air quality in the city’s streets, and identified the road as being one of the worst areas.

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