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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 7, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 07 December 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Brain Tumour Awareness, Air Quality (Low-emission Zones), Sea Fisheries and End-year Negotiations, Decision Time


Air Quality (Low-emission Zones)

The next item of business is a statement by Humza Yousaf on improving Scotland’s air quality and putting in place Scotland’s low-emission zones.

Clean air is essential for our health and wellbeing. Overall, Scotland’s air quality is good, but we know that areas of poorer air quality still exist in some of our towns and cities. We also know that some groups in society—the very young and old, and people who have existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions—are more likely to be affected by poor air quality.

People rightly expect to be able to breathe clean air. The Scottish Government is determined to ensure that we continue to make progress in tackling the issue, and that we achieve our vision of Scotland having the best air quality in Europe.

Low-emission zones are a tool that we can use to manage the impact of vehicle pollution in areas where the air quality is poor. They allow us to put restrictions on the vehicles that can enter designated areas and they help to encourage a move towards cleaner vehicles and greater use of public transport—an ambition that all of us around the chamber share.

In our programme for government, we committed to establishing low-emission zones in each of our four biggest cities by 2020, with the first being put in place by 2018. In October, it was announced that Glasgow will be the location of the first low-emission zone, which will be put in place in 2018.

In addition, by 2023, low-emission zones will have been established in other air quality management areas, where the national low-emission framework has demonstrated the establishment of a zone’s value in improving air quality. The commitment to delivering multiple low-emission zones across Scotland over the next six years is ambitious; it represents the largest-ever programme of transport-based air quality mitigation in Scotland.

The design and implementation of low-emission zones will be led by local councils, but we recognise that delivery of the ambitions will require partnership working across the whole of Scottish Government and a range of public bodies. We have therefore created a low-emission zones leadership group with the four largest cities and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to support implementation of low-emission zones. That will ensure that low-emission zones are based on robust evidence, and that stakeholders and the public are engaged and involved. The group will share knowledge and identify issues where nationally consistent standards for design and delivery of low-emission zones are required.

We are working collaboratively with Glasgow City Council as part of the multidisciplinary delivery group that it has established to progress design of the low-emission zone for Glasgow. Work is under way with the City of Edinburgh Council, Dundee Council and Aberdeen City Council to support them in developing their plans for progressing low-emission zones.

Decisions on the location and design of low-emission zones will, as I have said, be led by local authorities. We are urging them to be ambitious in their design and scope, with all vehicles being included within the low-emission zones at the appropriate time. The design process will build on assessment of the evidence that has been developed through partnership between local councils, SEPA and Transport Scotland over the past 12 months.

We know that low-emission zones will set an environmental limit on vehicles on designated roads within the specified towns and cities, and will allow access by only the cleanest vehicles. Only when local authorities create the final designs will we know exactly how many vehicles will be affected.

It is intended that low-emission zones will be based on road-access restriction schemes. Such schemes exclude vehicles that do not meet the relevant emissions standard, with a penalty being imposed on non-compliant vehicles when they enter the designated zone. The aim of low-emission zones is to improve air quality, so we want to incentivise compliance and discourage non-compliant vehicles from entering such zones.

It is, of course, for the local authorities to decide the timescales for the phasing in of different vehicle types, but we expect that low-emission zones will have nationally consistent lead-in times. Those lead-in periods will allow people who will be affected—bus and commercial fleet operators and private car owners—time to prepare before full compliance is required.

To support consideration of design, a national consultation on the principles for low-emission zones was launched on 6 September. It closed on 28 November and received more than 900 responses. That was a remarkable response to the consultation, which sought views on issues including emissions criteria, the scope of vehicles to be included, enforcement and penalties, and lead-in times and phasing. That was such a high response rate, and analysis of the responses is under way. The outputs from the process will inform decision making on the standards that will be adopted in the design of low-emission zones.

The consultation responses will also inform finalisation of the national low-emission framework document, which will provide the framework within which low-emission zones will be introduced, and is a key commitment from “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future”—the strategy that was published in 2015.

I turn now to one or two of the sectors that will, I hope, be positively affected by low-emission zones. The bus sector is integral to helping to manage air quality issues in towns and cities through providing a key alternative to use of private cars. A well used low-emission bus fleet will help to reduce emissions. Engagement with the bus industry on low-emission zones is on-going; operators have expressed understandable concern about securing compliant fleets to allow service levels to be maintained when low-emission zones come into force.

To support that, the programme for government committed to working with the commercial and bus sectors, the Energy Saving Trust and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership to establish an engine retrofitting centre in Scotland. Discussions are under way with the Energy Saving Trust and the bus sector to establish the bus-emission abatement retrofit programme in Scotland. To support that, we have committed £1.6 million for the first phase of the programme by March 2018. The seventh round of the green bus fund has also been successfully completed, and will in due course introduce another 47 low-emission buses to service.

Low-emission zones should also interact with other transport polices. We will encourage councils to consider wider measures to tackle congestion, for example traffic management and parking arrangements, as part of their consideration of implementing low-emission zones. That approach could help to improve bus journey times, to make car use less attractive and to increase modal shift towards active travel and public transport.

Low-emission zones have the potential to act as a catalyst for reimagined city-centre place making by helping to ensure that our city centres remain vibrant places in which to live, work, shop and socialise. We will encourage councils to consider low-emission zones as a component part of larger projects in their cities. Low-emission zones must also be designed with consideration of the potential for unintended secondary effects—for example, the potential for displacement of air pollution to areas outwith the zones.

Equality issues are central to consideration—especially to the communities around our towns and cities that rely on public transport to move around. We anticipate that local councils will carry out equalities impact assessments as part of the process of designing their low-emission zones.

Low-emission zones are not the only measure that will help us to address issues around vehicle pollution, and to deliver our vision of having the best air quality in Europe. We will continue to drive down vehicle-exhaust emissions through our ambitious target for phasing out the need for new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032. To support that, we will continue to expand the electric-vehicle charging network through a range of incentives to local authorities, businesses and individuals.

Funding will be crucial; funding to support the design and implementation of low-emission zones to meet the 2020 commitment will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review. The programme for government also established an air quality fund to support local authorities that have air quality management areas to deliver transport-based mitigation, as identified by the national low-emission framework.

Although we have made considerable progress, air pollution remains a significant public health and social justice issue in some towns and cities. Through the introduction of low-emission zones, we are adopting an approach that will help us to deliver improvements in air quality and public health. Those improvements will, of course, benefit people today, but crucially, they will also create a healthier world for future generations.

The minister will now take questions on the issues that have been raised in his statement. I will allow about 20 minutes for that.

I thank the minister for prior sight of his statement, although, with the greatest respect, I say that there was nothing in his 10-minute statement that we did not already know.

The minister has confirmed today that the first scheme will be in place by 2018 and that schemes will be in place in our four largest cities by 2020—but 2018 is just 24 days away. The Conservatives are supportive of the eventual outcome of the zones, but we are concerned about the unrealistic timescales for roll-out and the distinct lack of detail in the plans.

There remain straightforward and substantial questions that need to be answered. What types of vehicles will be affected by the new access restrictions? When will those vehicles be restricted from entering our cities? Will we end up with confusing and different schemes in different cities? What type of infrastructure will need to be in place when schemes go live, and how long will that infrastructure take to build? How much will it cost and who is going to pay for it?

Many thousands of law-abiding everyday drivers, city centre residents and local businesses will be affected by the restrictions and will, as they watch these proceedings today, be justifiably worried about the potential of being banned from driving to and from their own doorsteps. Can the minister answer some of those very basic questions today?

Yes, I can. I have the greatest respect for Jamie Greene and he knows that. It is only right and proper that we come to Parliament, not just with detail—I respect that he may well know some of that—but so that members can ask questions, as he has just done, to get clarification and to scrutinise and, where appropriate, to critique Government policy. I think that the statement is very much justified, in that sense. Many of the questions that the member asked will be answered when we have analysed the consultation responses. He might well have responded to that consultation, which asks about vehicle types, and so on and so forth.

When I was asked about low-emission zones at committee a couple of days ago, I made the point—which I hope Jamie Greene will agree is a reasonable one—that we will have a national framework for towns, cities and local authorities that wish to adopt low-emission zones, but there will clearly have to be flexibility because we know that one size does not fit all. We know that what might work for Glasgow’s low-emission zone might not work for Dundee’s or other cities’ air quality management areas. We have to allow for that flexibility.

On the point that we are less than a month away from 2018, we said that we would introduce the first low-emission zone in 2018, but I do not expect that that will happen on 1 January. Glasgow City Council and the national Government are working very closely to make sure that the zone is introduced in 2018. To give Jamie Greene some reassurance, I point out that I welcomed an email—which I think members across the chamber also received—from the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland that highlighted the federation’s view that there must in particular be consideration of phasing and lead-in times. That is a very important point. I reassure the member, as much as I can, that the local authorities that the Government has spoken to understand the need for appropriate phasing and lead-in times. If we look at low-emission zones across the wider United Kingdom or, indeed, across Europe, we can see that lead-in and phasing times have been crucial, so I give the member the absolute assurance that we want to work with the business community and others to ensure that things are done similarly in Scotland.

I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement. Labour welcomes the lowering of emissions as a strategy for improving air quality in Scotland. As the British Heart Foundation evidence makes clear, 80 per cent of deaths related to outdoor air pollution are due to heart disease or stroke. In Scotland, that deadly air pollution is most likely to come from traffic, and from older, polluting diesel vehicles in particular.

With the Glasgow pilot LEZ, does the minister envisage a 2018 launch date with enforcement some years later? Will the LEZs include, as we have heard, private vehicles as well as commercial vehicles and public transport? Will automatic number plate recognition technology be used to ensure greater compliance levels? Will that be funded by the Scottish Government? Should emissions be reduced per passenger or per vehicle? Will SEPA be funded to have more automatic emissions detection equipment, rather than the traditional diffusion tube? Will LEZs require primary or secondary legislation? Finally, will local authorities with LEZs have additional powers of enforcement over polluting vehicles?

I will do my best to answer the nine questions that I managed to note down.

I have to confess at the very beginning that I have no further information on the diffusion tube issue that David Stewart raised with me and the cabinet secretary a couple of days ago, but my officials are hoping to write to him with an important answer to what is an important question. I also want very much to recognise on the record Mr Stewart’s work on and ambitions for low-emission zones. He has banged the drum on the issue for many years now.

I will try to address some of the questions as best I can. I told the committee of which David Stewart is a member that the Government realises that we will have to be partners in funding and resourcing low-emission zones. As I said in my statement, we are a week away from the spending review, and I would certainly not attempt to pre-empt that. However, the Government understands that we have to step up and put our money where our mouth is, and that conversation is on-going with Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. Of course, we want the local authority to put resources into the zones, too.

I will also do my best to answer the member’s questions about enforcement. There is no suggestion from the other low-emission zones that have been introduced across the United Kingdom, particularly that in London, that enforcement began from day 1 of their introduction. If my memory serves me correctly, the evidence that the committee received from London made a very good point about why enforcement needed a phased approach or some lead-in time. There is a sensible argument to be made in that respect.

The flipside of that is that we must ensure that the timeline does not run away from us. We want enforceable LEZs as soon as is practicably and pragmatically possible, given the outcomes that they can achieve. Of course, a successful LEZ is one where no fines are being racked up and people are complying with the designated zone.

With regard to enforcement through number plate recognition, again, it will be for the local authority to come forward with what it thinks is the most appropriate infrastructure. David Stewart and I are probably at one in feeling that we should not talk about doing LEZs on the cheap. When it comes to designating and enforcing zones, we should be striving to have the latest and best technology and to do something that Scotland can lead on, while, of course, giving consideration to the budgetary constraints that we are under. I know that Glasgow and Edinburgh are exploring number plate recognition, but I cannot give a definitive answer as to whether they have settled on one piece of enforcement infrastructure.

As for the question whether things should be measured on a per vehicle or per passenger basis, internationally recognised air quality measurements, particularly on nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, are the driving force and the criteria to be met in existing air quality management areas or local air quality strategies. As a result, we are not necessarily looking at measuring things on a per vehicle or per passenger basis. However, I should say that the bus industry has made the absolutely reasonable point that the more bums on seats that we have on buses and the fewer that we have in cars, the better that will be for everybody. Indeed, it will be a win-win, and I think that buses are absolutely part of the solution.

On the question about legislation, we certainly believe that the legislation already exists for some elements of LEZ enforcement. I can tell David Stewart that if we think that there is any legislative requirement for other elements—as we think there might be; I can give him some more details about that later on—we will bring that forward in the transport bill that we have committed to introducing.

I can see already that we are not going to get through all the questions, so it is up to members and the minister to have quicker questions and answers, please.

Just over 360 buses have been replaced through the green bus fund, and in evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee earlier this week, the minister indicated that some operators were replacing polluting vehicles at their own expense. Can he give a broad indication of the number of low-emission buses that he expects to be in service by 2020, taking account of new and, as a result of the emission abatement programme, retrofitted vehicles?

I cannot give Mr Dey an exact number and I would not try to hazard a guess, but he is right to say that the £16 million-plus that we have spent on the green bus fund has allowed 362 buses to be greened. I have mentioned that another tranche is coming, and in the programme for government the First Minister promised to extend and expand the green bus fund, which will be welcome.

On top of that, we are working closely with the bus industry to see how we can create an abatement retrofit scheme for buses, which will incentivise retrofitting where that is appropriate. However, many bus companies have told me that they do not want money for retrofitting. They do not want to retrofit a 13-year-old bus; they would rather have assistance to buy a brand-new electric bus or a Euro 6 bus. We therefore have to ensure that the fund is flexible, so that bus companies that are at different stages, depending on the age of their fleet, can make use of it.

The minister mentioned the FSB’s concerns, and he will accept that residents and small businesses will be worried about the short timescales that he outlined in his statement. What assurances can he give small businesses, which face enough costs and bureaucracy as it is, about the impact on their enterprises? What action is he taking to ensure that the interests of those who live and work in low-emission zones and who use diesel vehicles are not prejudiced by a failure to engage with them during the implementation of LEZs?

Donald Cameron will have heard from my answer to his colleague Jamie Greene that I welcomed the FSB’s contribution. I look forward to meeting representatives from the FSB and the chambers of commerce, to whom I have written today to find out when we can have a conversation about low-emission zones. As I told Jamie Greene, although we are looking at introducing the LEZ in Glasgow by 2018, a phased approach with lead-in times will be taken. I hope that that gives businesses some reassurance.

I am unsure at this stage whether the Conservatives support LEZs or not, but it would be helpful to get some clarification from them on that in due course. However, I can give Mr Cameron an absolute assurance that we will be engaging with the public and with businesses, as well as engaging continually and collaboratively with local authorities.

Concerns have been raised in my constituency by, among others, Cambuslang community council about air pollution in Cambuslang Main Street in particular. Although I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to put in place low-emission zones in cities, can the minister advise me what measures will be put in place to reduce air pollution in Scotland’s towns?

Clare Haughey will be aware that, as well as committing to introducing low-emission zones in the four largest cities by 2020, we are also committed to introducing, by 2023, low-emission zones in air quality management areas where the evidence shows that they are needed. We will continue to work with SEPA, Transport Scotland, Health Protection Scotland and others to further reduce air pollution and to deliver benefits for human and environmental health. All local authorities with air quality management areas have in place either final or draft action plans. We are working closely with them. For example, we provide local authorities with practical and financial support to tackle air pollution hotspots, including £4 million in annual funding to improve air quality, £1 million of which was additional funding. “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future” sets out how the Scottish Government and partner organisations will deliver further improvements to air quality over the coming years.

Although no AQMAs have been declared in the Cambuslang area, South Lanarkshire Council will keep the situation under review and will take appropriate action where needed.

The minister referred in his statement to the potential for LEZs to have unintended secondary effects. I welcome the £1.6 million funding for the bus abatement retrofit programme in Scotland. Can he reassure the chamber that heavily polluting buses will not be allowed to move into areas outside LEZs, as I fear that that could threaten residents’ health in deprived suburbs?

The member is absolutely right, and let me put on record that I recognise her interest in the issue, on which she has campaigned. She is right to mention displacement, and I hope that she heard me mention it in my statement.

We, and the local authorities, are very conscious of that. Glasgow City Council has still to come forward with its final proposal on the scope of the low-emission zone in Glasgow, but we would not want displacement to affect those areas outside the Glasgow box, or zone.

I reassure the member that the bus companies that I have spoken to, particularly large operators such as First Bus, Stagecoach, McGill’s Bus Service and Lothian Buses, have hugely impressive and ambitious plans for greening their fleets. If she has not visited any of those bus operators, she would do well to do so, because they all understand that this is the direction in which Scotland is going.

Can I give the member an absolute commitment and promise that, on day 1, no bus with a Euro 3 engine will be outside a low-emission zone? Of course I cannot do that, and I do not think that she would expect that to be the case. Can I say that we are working towards having the cleanest and the greenest fleet possible? Can I say that we will help to assist that through the abatement scheme? I absolutely can say that. I give her a further assurance that it is not just the Government that has that ambition—the bus companies that I have spoken to absolutely share it, too.

Notwithstanding the answer to that previous question, the minister’s statement identifies that only 47 buses went through the previous round—round seven—of the green bus fund. That is less than 1 per cent of the total fleet. Does the minister acknowledge that, in the year ahead, there will need to be an acceleration in the conversion of buses, or the purchase of new buses, if we are not just to tackle the LEZs, but to roll out actions to the air quality management areas?

For the sake of brevity, my answer is that that is absolutely the case. We have made significant progress, but we understand that, when it comes to the introduction of low-emission zones, we will have to make progress at a quicker speed. When the spending review is produced, the members will—I hope—see more detail about that in it. As I have said, we are committing £1.6 billion to the abatement scheme, which I hope will lead to progress.

I suggest to the member, as I did to Claudia Beamish, that because of his interest in the issue he would do well to visit the bus operators and hear from them about their ambitious and welcome plans for greening their fleets.

I too, thank the minister for early sight of his statement. He refers to the ambition to expand the electric charging vehicle network, which I very much support. However, does he recognise that key to improving the take-up of EVs is improving the maintenance and the reliability of the network? Will he outline the steps that the Government plans to take to ensure that that happens? Will he commit to ensuring that free vend is the default on charging points in order to address some of the problems that have been arising with the network?

I acknowledge the member’s interest in the issue. We have met on many occasions to discuss electric vehicles. Orkney is a leader when it comes to the take-up per capita of electric vehicles.

I share the member’s ambitions. Some of our charging points default to free vend. However, he is absolutely right—having that across the network is a very good idea. I assure him that, after our most recent meeting, when he suggested that to me, my officials are exploring that very idea.

On the infrastructure, we are very proud that we have more than 700 charging points. From memory, I think that more than 150 of them are rapid charging points. We have a good charging network, but we must expand it if we want to get to our vision for 2032. However, it is hugely important that we also work on behavioural change. In addition, we must work to reduce the up-front capital cost of electric vehicles. That is happening anyway due to the market forces of supply and demand. Our scheme, which is in conjunction with the Energy Saving Trust and allows an interest-free loan for the purchase of electric vehicles, is part of that. We will, of course, introduce any other initiatives in good time. I am sure that the member will welcome that.

Urban consolidation hubs can enhance low-emission zones by reducing business costs, helping to standardise freight traffic and tackling congestion and pollution problems. Will the minister expand the trial project in Dundee, which is a pollution hotspot, to cover the city comprehensively, as well as create another hub in Glasgow, which is another pollution hotspot, in 2018?

I acknowledge the member’s persistence on the issue of freight consolidation centres; I have met him to discuss them before. There is much evidence to suggest that they help with regard to carbon reduction and improvement in air quality. I should say that some evidence across the United Kingdom suggests that their impact is not as significant as that of other measures that we can take, such as low-emission zones. That is not to discard the issue; it is simply to take an evidence based approach.

I can say to the member that I will reflect on the question that he asks me, although it is not within our current plans to further fund consolidation hubs in Glasgow and the other cities that he mentioned. I will give the issue consideration, but the member will realise that, given the budget restrictions and other restrictions that we have, we must ensure that we invest where we get the biggest bang for our buck, and, for me, low-emission zones present us with an exciting opportunity that has been tried and tested in other parts of the United Kingdom and across the European continent. However, that is not to discard the member’s point about consolidation hubs and, as I said, I will reflect on his question.

I am glad that the minister’s statement has a significant focus on modal shift from private to public transport but, clearly, there is a risk that there will be unintended consequences if bus fleets are not in a position to operate in the LEZs. That is a particular issue with regard to Glasgow city centre, where the same bus would run right through the city. Does the minister agree that there is a risk that one unintended consequence of the provision could be a rise in private transport due to the unavailability of buses? Further, can the minister give us any information on the plans and timescales for the engine refit centre?

I do not disagree with Ivan McKee; he is absolutely right. The introduction of a low emission zone has to be coupled with better and more affordable public transport that is more frequent and more accessible to people. That is why phase-in and lead-in times are important. I would simply reiterate the answer that I gave to David Stewart: there has to be a balance between giving the bus industry, private car owners and businesses an appropriate lead-in time, and our need to push ahead with the proposal so that we can realise the benefits of air quality improvements for generations to come.

That is the end of questions on the statement. My apologies to those I was unable to call.