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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 17 April 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, NHS Tayside, Air Quality, Burntisland Fabrications, Decision Time, Aberdeen Trades Union Council


Air Quality

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-11643, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, on “Air Quality in Scotland Inquiry”.


Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

It is my privilege as convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee to open the debate on our inquiry into air quality in Scotland.

As is now widely accepted, poor air quality is one of the greatest environmental threats to human health. Elevated pollution levels, particularly in urban areas with high volumes of road traffic, are linked with numerous health issues, including heart disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also has damaging effects on the environment.

In light of that, and having carried out an earlier piece of work on such matters, the committee took the health aspects as a given at the start of the inquiry. We focused the inquiry on the actions that the Government is taking to improve the air that we breathe. In particular, the committee homed in on the Government’s strategy “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future” and asked whether it contains the right policies, support and incentives to adequately tackle air pollution. Having the right strategy is clearly only half the battle. We also need the mechanisms in place, led by local government and national agencies, to implement that strategy.

Before I get into the detail of the committee’s findings, I thank, on behalf of the committee members, everyone who contributed to the inquiry. A committee’s scrutiny is only as good as the evidence that it receives, and we would not have been able to produce what I hope is a comprehensive report without that help.

I acknowledge the part that David Stewart MSP played in shaping the report. He left the committee towards the end of the work that we were doing but his fingerprints are to be found on various aspects of it and, I can tell, he is chomping at the bit to make a contribution to the debate—as, indeed, is Emma Harper who, along with other former members Maurice Golden and Alexander Burnett played her part, too.

I turn to our findings. I will provide an overview of the committee’s work, as well as focusing in on a couple of areas. I am sure that colleagues will develop those areas further and, indeed, highlight other aspects of the committee’s scrutiny.

I start with the cleaner air for Scotland strategy, on which the committee heard mixed views. Although many witnesses were supportive of its high-level aspirations and agreed that it is broadly taking us in the right direction, questions were asked about whether the necessary support and incentives are in place on the ground to get us to where Scotland needs to go. Scotland needs to make improvements. There are European Union air quality targets for 2020 with which the country has to comply. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency was confident that we would meet that deadline, but others were not so sure.

We also heard that the strategy is a living document. However, we found the yearly update on the progress on its 34 actions to be insufficient. Future iterations need to be more transparent so that progress or otherwise can readily be tracked. Despite welcome assurances from ministers, we were concerned that there was a degree of disconnect between national agencies and local authorities in delivering those actions. That is particularly prescient given the current review of planning policies. If new developments take place without public transport or active travel infrastructure, we will simply be increasing the number of cars on our roads, albeit the move towards electric vehicles would mitigate the effect of that.

With regard to tangible actions, one of the main areas that we looked at was low-emission zones. Just after we launched our inquiry, the Government announced that there would be four low-emission zones in Scotland: one in Glasgow, by the end of 2018 and then one each in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh by 2020. We therefore focused our attention on what those zones would look like in practice.

It was immediately clear that we will not have an all-singing, all-dancing LEZ in operation in Glasgow by the end of this year—not that any of us had believed that that would actually be the case. Designing an LEZ and having the technology in place is one thing, but allowing users—from bus companies and delivery firms to private car owners—to update their vehicles to comply with the requirements of an LEZ clearly requires more time. We asked what LEZs would look like, when they would be implemented and how technology would fit in. On what vehicles should be covered by the zones, the committee recommended that, in order to allow LEZs to best contribute to overall improvements in air quality, cars should be included.

It is now clear that emissions from diesel vehicles have a massive impact on the air that we breathe. Dr Scott Hamilton of Ricardo Energy & Environment said to the committee:

“I am 100 per cent sure that most of that problem has arisen from there being too much diesel in the car fleet, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong technology.”—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 14 November 2017; c 22.]

The problem with taking action in that regard is that we would be penalising people for making a vehicle choice that they were encouraged by Government to make, when they were told that that choice would benefit the environment—I count myself among that group. However, although that might seem unfair—and, indeed, while it might undermine public trust in environmental messaging—the fact is that we need to take action.

Given the technical and financial resources that are needed to implement LEZs, the committee recommended that the Scottish Government, local authorities and relevant public agencies work jointly to ensure that all available technology is shared to help to ensure a consistent and efficient approach across the country. In evidence, the Government said that good collaboration was already under way between the cities and, when we spoke to officials from Glasgow, they clearly had a real command of the subject and a clear understanding of the issues in their city. Issues vary city by city, though, and each situation will pose different challenges.

Although there are positive indications, the committee asked for an update on all four LEZs by the end of June this year, along with an indication of the dates on which they will come into force.

On active travel, the committee was clear that, no matter how effective LEZs are or how much alternatively fuelled vehicles might reduce emissions, we need to increase the number of journeys that are made by bike to 10 per cent and beyond if we are to meet air quality and wider climate change targets. The Scottish Government’s target of 10 per cent of journeys being made by bike by 2020 was raised repeatedly during the course of the inquiry but, despite positive assurances from Transport Scotland, the committee struggled to find other evidence to back the belief that we are on course to achieve that. Indeed, the latest figures that we had, which were from 2016, showed that the number of journeys that are made by bike had risen by only 0.2 per cent in six years. At that rate of progress, it would take us until 2252 to reach the target.

We do not need to look far to see success in this area. In the Netherlands, which is widely regarded as one of the best countries in Europe for cycling, 27 per cent of all journeys are made by bike, with that figure rising to 36 per cent in Amsterdam. Although Amsterdam is not built around seven hills like Edinburgh is, the difference is nevertheless stark. Although the committee recognised and welcomed the recent sizeable increase in the active travel transport budget, it considers that segregated cycling infrastructure will be required in order to give people the confidence to get on their bikes.

Although much of the report focused on urban transport, air quality is also a rural issue, and the committee agreed that work needs to take place across the country to combat the problem. We were surprised to find that agricultural pollutants are not included in the cleaner air for Scotland strategy. We heard calls for nitrogen fertilisers to be used more efficiently and were encouraged to learn of innovative techniques that are used in other countries to help limit the amount of pollutants escaping into the atmosphere. Although there are clearly financial costs involved in introducing new farming techniques, the committee recommended that the Scottish Government provide guidance to the agriculture sector on how it might adopt those techniques, as well as consider what incentives might be offered to help accelerate the use of new methods. The strategy should also be updated to reflect how agricultural pollutants might be reduced in the coming years.

To conclude, I thank committee colleagues for their sterling and typically constructive cross-party working on the inquiry, and I welcome the opportunity to air—no pun intended—this hugely important subject in the chamber. I also look forward to perhaps hearing the cabinet secretary’s initial thinking on the inquiry report and, beyond today, the Government’s full response to our recommendations.

Presiding Officer, I realise that, in opening the debate, I am concluding a little ahead of my allotted time. That is not to curry favour with you—although that is never something to be shied away from—but to allow committee colleagues and others the optimum time to offer their thoughts on the topic.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the findings and recommendations of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s 1st Report, 2018 (Session 5), Air Quality in Scotland Inquiry (SP Paper 117).

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Flattery will get you nowhere.


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

There is mounting evidence of the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality and in that respect the committee’s inquiry has been timely. I welcome the opportunity that it offers to highlight the range of policies and initiatives that the Scottish Government and its partners are implementing to deliver further reductions in air pollution.

Although air quality has improved markedly in recent years—Scottish air quality in particular compares well with that in the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe—hotspots of poorer air quality remain in many of our towns and cities. We all agree that more needs to be done. Poor air quality affects us all, but we know that vulnerable groups in society—the very young, the elderly and those with existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions—are disproportionately affected. We are therefore determined to build on our achievements to date and drive down pollution levels still further.

Air quality is a cross-cutting issue that is key to a number of other policy areas, notably transport, climate change, land use planning, public and environmental health and energy. Work undertaken across all of those areas has been hugely important in bringing us to where we are today. However, the complexity of effectively co-ordinating interactions between diverse and wide-ranging policies means that, in the past, we have not necessarily always gotten it right. There is no doubt in my mind that opportunities have been missed, and that Governments have not always realised the full potential or have avoided potential inconsistencies. To provide a focus for further action, in November 2015, we published “Cleaner Air for Scotland”, our first distinct air quality strategy. I remind members that that means that the strategy is barely two years old.

“Cleaner Air for Scotland” sets out a series of 40 key actions that will help us towards full compliance with EU and domestic air quality legislation, and our vision of Scotland having the best air quality in Europe. Underpinning the strategy is an emphasis on protecting human health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities. In support of that, we have already made significant progress.

We were the first country in Europe to legislate for the World Health Organization guideline value for particulate matter of the class PM2.5—a pollutant that is of special concern for human health, because small particles can penetrate deep into the lungs. We are also establishing a PM2.5 monitoring network to support achievement of that target, which is more than twice as stringent as the equivalent set in EU legislation. We have also created detailed individual air quality models for each of our four biggest cities within the national modelling framework. Those models will greatly assist councils in taking their local air quality action plans to the next level with more targeted policy interventions.

Since the publication of “Cleaner Air for Scotland”, we have increased our level of ambition still further, with a commitment to establish Scotland’s first low-emission zone by the end of 2018, which as we now know will be in Glasgow. That will be followed by further zones in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh by 2020. Subsequent zones will be established in other air quality management areas by 2023, where evidence suggests that such interventions will be effective.

The Scottish Government’s budget, which was recently agreed by Parliament, includes new funding of £10.8 million a year to support low-emission zone work. The budget also confirms a doubling of air quality monitoring funding from £0.5 million to £1 million a year. The overall air quality budget now stands at £4.5 million a year. The intention is to allocate more than 70 per cent of the low-emission zone funding—about £7.8 million—to support our bus industry to prepare for low-emission zones. We believe that such funding would be enough to support the retrofitting of more than 300 buses in Glasgow, which is more than 40 per cent of the city centre fleet. The Minister for Transport and the Islands will say more about that work later, when he will pick up on specific transport-related issues.

Another central pillar of “Cleaner Air for Scotland” is effective communication, which was one of the issues raised in the committee’s report. One of the six overarching objectives in the strategy is:

“A Scotland where all citizens are well informed, engaged, and empowered to improve our air quality”.

Last year, the Scottish Government helped fund and develop a permanent interactive air quality exhibit at the Glasgow Science Centre. Together with SEPA, we are now building on the success of that by developing a mobile version of the exhibit to be taken around the country. It will help to demonstrate the actions that we can all take to improve air quality. We hope to launch the mobile exhibit later in the year in conjunction with the second clean air day, which is to take place on 21 June. I hope that members will look out for that coming into their local areas.

For the inaugural clean air day last summer, I visited Sciennes primary school in Edinburgh, where I was hugely impressed by the knowledge and engagement of the pupils in relation to air quality. During the visit, SEPA conducted a session using the excellent air quality education package that it has developed. That was just one of many events that made the first clean air day such a success. The aim is for this year’s clean air day to be even bigger and better, with planning of the programme well under way. We can all play a part in that, and I strongly encourage members to get involved.

Although the current focus in “Cleaner Air for Scotland” is very much on transport—which was a deliberate decision, as transport continues to be the most important air pollution source in our towns and cities—we must remember that other pollutant sources also impact on health and the environment. As we make progress with implementing transport-related actions, we will begin to focus more attention on those other sources. However, I want to use this opportunity to highlight a couple of the things that we are already doing in relation to issues that the committee has drawn attention to in its report.

Agriculture is one such issue. We are working to establish best practices for slurry application and storage to reduce emissions, while ensuring that it is properly co-ordinated with greenhouse gas reduction efforts. The committee has also rightly drawn attention to the issue of wood burning. Jointly with the other UK Administrations, we are currently undertaking research to look at attitudes and behaviours relating to domestic combustion, and we hope to be in a position to report on that research later this year.

Although we have many reasons to be optimistic that we are now making progress in improving the quality of our air, it must also be acknowledged that new and existing challenges remain. When thinking about new challenges, the issue of the UK’s exit from the EU features highly. As in many other policy areas, legislation established at European level has created a framework within which international co-operation has been a major driver in reducing emissions of air pollutants in Scotland and further afield. That is particularly important in the case of air pollution, which of course is transboundary by its nature. It is essential that we do not lose that following EU exit, and the Scottish Government is absolutely determined to ensure that we maintain our environmental standards in whichever scenario may emerge in the future.

Members will also be aware, as I am, of the recent series of judicial reviews brought by ClientEarth over the UK’s failures to comply with EU air quality targets. We remain committed to securing compliance with EU obligations by 2020.

“Cleaner Air for Scotland” was a commendable collaborative effort involving the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, Health Protection Scotland, SEPA, local authorities and many other organisations across the public and private sectors. I expect that partnership working to continue. Successfully delivering the remit of the strategy will be challenging but it is achievable with a concerted effort to continue working together. I thank the committee for its report. I will also write to the committee in more detail in response to its specific recommendations.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, and to the fact that I am a non-executive director of Edinburgh Worldwide Investment Trust, which is a company that has investments in electric vehicles, fuel-cell companies and automobiles.

I am delighted to open for the Scottish Conservatives in this important committee debate. However, I must confess that, having been on the ECCLR Committee only since June last year, I have not been party to the full inquiry on air quality, which I regret. Nevertheless, during my time on the committee, I have heard a great deal of evidence—enough to know that this is an issue that requires decisive action.

That was put firmly into context when the committee visited Corstorphine in Edinburgh and heard about the damaging effects on people of poor air quality and unclean air, which brought home to me the sheer misery for communities. It was particularly instructive to speak to school children about their journeys to and from school. If anything should persuade us of the need for action, it is the effects of poor air quality on the next generation.

It is very worrying that areas of Scotland’s three largest cities exceed the legal limit of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre, including there being a level of 58 micrograms per cubic metre in Hope Street in Glasgow. To someone who represents the Highlands and Islands region, which has some of the cleanest air in Scotland, it is striking to be presented with such evidence about our major conurbations.

I thank my ECCLR Committee colleagues and convener for the work that everyone has done to reach this point, and I pay tribute to the clerks and staff who work with the committee for putting together the extensive report. The Scottish Conservatives welcome the report’s conclusions, and I believe that there is a clear consensus across the chamber that we should take real and ambitious action on our environment, which is welcome. I also welcome the cabinet secretary’s acknowledgement that the matter is cross-portfolio; we must think about it across the portfolios.

I will focus on low-emission zones. The Scottish Conservatives broadly support the proposals in principle, and the effects that they seek to achieve. It is abundantly clear from the committee evidence that tackling air pollution in Scotland’s towns and cities will have immeasurable benefits for communities, and will help to tackle some of the most prevalent diseases in our society, including lung diseases.

It is encouraging to see leading organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses coming up with solutions so that businesses can begin to adapt to the changes before they come fully into force. The FSB recently suggested that businesses should check the emissions standards of their vehicles, invest in vehicles that comply with Euro 6 and Euro 4 emissions standards and investigate scrappage schemes for old vehicles. We need to continue to raise awareness of the proposals so that Scotland is not just ready for such measures but gets behind them. There is a huge job to do in persuading the public to back the measures; I acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s remarks about the importance of communication.

Although we understand the need to make progress, we have concerns that are shared by members across the political spectrum. Until recently, the Government had not provided clear information on technological infrastructure and timescales for implementation. The ECCLR Committee inquiry notes that there are concerns about the tight timescale for the introduction of LEZs and about whether local authorities have the resources to bring the zones fully into operation. We know from London’s experience that it can take up to 18 months to implement a similar system. That was despite the fact that London could piggy-back on the existing camera network and back-office system that were used for the congestion charge—which, incidentally, took about two years to implement.

Since the deadline for the Glasgow LEZ of December 2018 was announced, we have expressed concern that there is simply not, over the eight months to the end of this year, enough time to put in place the appropriate infrastructure and back-office systems. Timescales for implementation of LEZs should be clear and realistic in order to allow sufficient time for industry, residents and small businesses to adapt. The Government must also ensure that plans for LEZs in the remaining three cities are properly articulated and communicated and that they are practical and achievable.

Lack of detail about plans and costs will create insecurity. I accept and welcome the recent announcement of £10.8 million, but we were concerned to learn that, in 2016, almost 800,000 privately owned diesel cars were not compliant with Euro 6, and that almost 400,000 privately owned petrol cars were not compliant with Euro 4, which equates to 53.3 per cent of the total private-car stock that is registered in Scotland. Although not all those drivers will be affected by the proposed LEZ areas, it is clear that a significant proportion of the public will be required to comply.

We are also concerned that the current approach that is taken to LEZs may create unnecessary confusion about high costs for small businesses—in particular, bus and freight operators. That consternation was recognised in the ECCLR Committee. It is worth setting out the concerns of, for example, the FSB, McGill’s Bus Services and the Road Haulage Association, which said that it is worried about the “financial burden” that will be placed on businesses.

As I have said, we welcome the recent funding announcements, but further support will be required to give confidence to an industry that is at times sceptical, and a public who are not yet prepared for the LEZs that are coming. Although we have many legitimate concerns, we are in principle supportive of the changes, and we look forward to working with all parties to deliver an LEZ system that works for drivers and the public.

In conclusion, I say that I have scratched the surface of the report and concentrated on LEZs; I hope that other members will talk about active travel. We welcome the report and its recommendations. We are committed to reducing Scotland’s carbon footprint, to reducing dependency on fossil fuels, and to tackling the scourge of poor air quality.

The report is one step forward, but we need greater clarity from the Government on how many of its proposals will be met and implemented. Only then will we be able to see, and reap the benefits of, a cleaner Scotland.


David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I warmly thank the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and its clerks for a comprehensive and insightful report. As members know, I was a member of that committee until early this year. I thank its convener for his very kind words: I enjoyed working with him and the rest of the committee.

The key issue is how we improve air quality in Scotland. We know from Friends of the Earth Scotland that air pollution from particulate matter alone—that is, PM2.5—is responsible for 2,000 early deaths in Scotland each year. If we include exposure to nitrogen dioxide, the number is 2,500 early deaths each year. That is more than all the people who die in road accidents.

If we consider the wider issue, we see that deaths from air pollution are in the top two of avoidable deaths worldwide. Air pollution truly is an invisible killer. It causes 670,000 people to be at high risk due to their cardiovascular conditions. More than 65 years after air pollution first hit the headlines in the UK, that is a statistic of which no one can be proud.

Like many other members, I have been a champion of low-emission zones, and I have used many a debate in the chamber to promote them as one of the many solutions that are needed to tackle air pollution and climate change. I was therefore delighted to see the Scottish Government finally put in motion the steps to bring the first low-emission zone to Scotland. As we know, the Scottish Government’s 2017-18 programme for government undertook to create an LEZ in one city—which is likely to be Glasgow—by the end of 2018 and to have LEZs in Scotland’s four biggest cities by 2020. Will that be delivered according to plan?

In its written evidence, SEPA stressed the importance of not letting timescales slip because of operational reasons including procurement, financing, staffing and legal considerations. Donald Cameron mentioned the evidence from McGill’s Bus Services. The committee’s report said that McGill’s Bus Services is

“concerned it would be ‘bankrupt’ as a result of a ‘last minute LEZ scheme’ when planning and communication ‘should have taken place 5 years ago’. It also highlighted the additional costs of running retrofitted vehicles which would result in ‘fares going up to meet these additional costs.’”

Donald Cameron also touched on the fact that enforcement of LEZs is vital. I have always been a big enthusiast for what has been done in London. Use of automatic number-plate recognition is absolutely key. The minister may mention in winding up whether that will be fully adopted for Glasgow.

Will there be a lead-in time to allow bus fleets to be upgraded? The report says that the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK said:

“Otherwise ... buses might not be available in those areas and therefore ‘you could have the perverse situation in which you introduce an LEZ and it encourages car use.’”

Although low-emission zones will not alone solve air pollution, they have the capacity to be one piece of the puzzle that could make a real difference to the health of people who live in our cities and towns.

Active travel is also crucial. Using low-emission zones to reduce traffic pollution in towns and cities is just one step on the path to cleaner air. The aim is that LEZs will also help to encourage modal shift to more active travel, as well as to increase use of public transport. However, that will not happen overnight. We need better investment in cycle paths, pedestrian walkways and clear signage, and traveller safety is needed, as is winning the hearts and minds of the public for increased active and public transport. It is all well and good to talk about active travel, but what if it is not safe to walk or cycle in our local neighbourhoods, for example?

The Scottish Government’s target is for 10 per cent of everyday journeys to be undertaken by bike by 2020. At current progress, that looks to be a hard target, but it is an important one. Labour wants to bring into being municipal bus services through bus regulation, which would also encourage a step change away from private car use. Proper regulation of buses would allow services to be run in the public interest rather than by private shareholders, which would allow them to be cheaper and more effective, as well as allowing for more investment to make them greener.

Of course, a great many health conditions are linked to living and working in air-polluted areas—heart conditions, lung problems, asthma, cancer and even dementia. Those conditions are felt all too often by the most vulnerable people in society, including older people, small children, people who already have chronic health problems and people who live in our most deprived areas. We need a step change and a modal shift to active travel in order to meet best practice in Europe. In Amsterdam, for example, 70 per cent of all journeys are made by bike.

It seems that we can have no debate in the chamber without mention of Brexit—the ghost at every feast. Many of the laws that currently put pressure on the UK and Scottish Governments regarding air quality come from EU law. For example, the recent breach of the European ambient air quality directive led to legal action against the UK Government by ClientEarth. It is therefore vital that, before we leave the EU, we pass legislation that maintains commitments to better air quality. That is why I support the British Heart Foundation’s calls for new clean air acts from the devolved Administrations.

Will European Court of Justice rulings apply to UK environmental breaches in the future? The jury is out, but the UK Government has made it clear that it is leaving Euratom because of ECJ jurisdiction. Is not there a case for a Scottish environmental court to replace the ECJ if we have to leave? Who will guard the guards? Although everyone in the country should be fully committed to improving air quality for the health of the nation, that added pressure of enforcement from the EU has added the incentive for setting ambitious targets and strategies, which we are not meeting currently. Any loss of pressure could have devastating consequences.

Air pollution is a public health emergency. It is also a continuing health inequality, which hits hardest the old, the young, the poor and the disadvantaged. The report is excellent and I congratulate the ECCLR Committee. I hope that the Scottish Government accepts the recommendations in full.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I believe that this is Holyrood’s first air quality inquiry, which provides an excellent starting point for further scrutiny across Parliament, in much the same way as the first inquiry into climate change did, more than a decade ago.

The figure of 2,500 deaths every year related to air pollution should be our strongest call to action. The urgency to tackle this public health crisis is reflected in the EU’s targets on nitrous oxide, which we have so far failed to meet in Scotland, which has undoubtedly cost lives. The problem is not just in the big cities: the number of air-quality management areas that are triggered by dangerous levels of particulates and nitrous oxide in towns continues to rise, not fall.

The Government’s “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future” strategy has the right approach, but it must be strengthened with the right actions and the budget to meet EU targets in less than two years. As Dave Stewart does, I doubt whether the European Court of Justice will still be able to take infraction proceedings if we fail to meet the targets, but establishing a successor body to hold Governments to account on the health of our environment will be critical post-Brexit.

Many recommendations in the report should refocus the Government’s strategy. The announcement in the programme for government that the number of LEZs is to be increased from a single pilot to four was welcome. However, it became clear during the inquiry that cutting pollution from the bus fleet will be the foundation for every successful LEZ, with the inclusion of cars, taxis and heavy goods vehicles taking as early as possible the path of the buses.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport told the inquiry that the CAFS strategy has so far “failed to deliver”, with no review of the bus investment fund, the operators grant or guidance, and no updated legislation, which it was promised would be in place by 2016.

As I highlighted in the recent Green Party debate on buses, confusion around funding has hampered the early planning of a more ambitious Glasgow LEZ. I was encouraged that, the day after that debate, the transport minister announced that 70 per cent of the £10.8 million fund for LEZ delivery this year can be used for bus retrofits. That means that in Glasgow about three quarters of the fleet could be running clean by next year.

However, there is still no sign of the further £10 million of loan funds that was agreed as part of this year’s budget, which could be used to accelerate delivery of engine and exhaust retrofit work in the other three cities, thereby giving them a head start on wider LEZ roll-out. I acknowledge that plans change and evolve, but the situation emphasises the importance of an annual report on the CAF strategy that can make it clear to Parliament where the effort will be going, and where and why programmes need revision ahead of the annual budget process.

In my remaining time, I will mention a couple more of the many themes that the committee looked at. When we talk about air quality, we talk mostly about communities and how they work. Our trip to Corstorphine to talk to residents underlined just how complex the situation is. How parking is enforced, how traffic lights are phased, how the school run works and how planning decisions are made all impact on air quality. It is obvious that if we create an urban environment that is easy to get around on foot or by bike—where vehicle speeds are safer and where there is good infrastructure for walking and cycling—we will make our towns and cities healthier and more attractive places in which to spend time and money.

The planning process is critical. Both the cabinet secretary and the transport minister highlighted to the inquiry the need for air quality to be a bigger consideration. I ask whether the promised discussions with the planning minister about planning reform have been held. We need to be making healthy places, rather than locking in pollution and ill health for generations to come.

Finally, I highlight the role of agriculture in adding to background levels of nitrogen pollution. It is yet another area—alongside climate change and water quality—in which a nitrogen budget for Scotland could make a big difference. We need our Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity finally to grasp that proportionate regulation to deal with nitrogen pollution can only bring cost savings to farmers, while protecting our soils, rivers, climate and air.

The inquiry is an important milestone on our journey to a Scotland in which deaths from air pollution are consigned to the history books, alongside deaths from cholera and tuberculosis. Renewed focus by the Government will be needed if we are to make that a reality.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Liam McArthur to open for the Liberal Democrats. You can have five minutes or thereabouts, as there is a little time in hand for everyone.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I thank Graeme Dey and his committee colleagues for their inquiry and detailed work on air quality, and I congratulate them on their report, which, for the reasons that Mark Ruskell set out, provides a useful platform from which to take forward the Parliament’s work in the area and attempt to make the cleaner air for Scotland strategy deliver on its ambitions.

I am the member of the Scottish Parliament for Orkney, Presiding Officer, and in the coffee lounge earlier you and I were reflecting that, although a lack of clean air might not be a problem in my part of the world, the speed at which the air moves certainly is.

Air quality is a shared interest of all members, as it relates to our concerns about climate change, the environment and our health objectives. As Katherine Byrne, of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, reminded us, air pollution should be treated as a health emergency. That is a clarion call for action.

In the time that is available to me, I will touch on three issues that are addressed in the report: policy cohesion, low-emission zones and cars.

This is an area that clearly needs a joined-up approach across Government. As the cabinet secretary rightly acknowledged in her speech, air quality touches on policy areas such as the environment, transport, health, agriculture, local government and education. It cannot simply be a matter for one minister or one department.

The committee rightly asks that air quality be a key component in reviews of the national planning framework and national planning policy. If air quality is not embedded in planning and place making, it is difficult to see how we can achieve the objectives of the CAFS strategy.

That points to the joined-up approach that is needed between national Government and local government. The committee’s report seems to imply that there are conflicting interests across local authorities. There is no doubt that council budgets are under pressure, and it might be difficult for some councils to make investments when they are making difficult decisions about funding other areas, but we need to find mechanisms, including funding, to ensure that at national and local levels there is complementary—and certainly not contradictory—action.

LEZs have been something of a poster child for the Scottish Government’s clean air strategy. They are very welcome indeed, and I congratulate Glasgow on being the first taxi off the rank in having one. We need to recognise that that LEZ will set the tone. If it is ambitious, it will encourage others to raise their game, too; if it is too timid, it will run the risk of providing cover and an excuse for others to follow suit. It is good to see the ECCLR Committee supporting a strong stance on that. For the reasons that David Stewart touched on, it is right that, in order to make a meaningful contribution, such zones must include, at the very least, private vehicles.

Friends of the Earth has pointed out that, since the publication of the committee’s report, we have seen Glasgow City Council produce less-than-ambitious proposals. There have been attempts to beef those proposals up, but they still seem to fall far short of the commitments that were made by the Government. More importantly, they run the risk of leaving the levels of air pollution still illegal by 2020. Last month, we also saw Environment LINK resign from the cleaner air for Scotland governance group. All of that sets a mood and a tone. The cabinet secretary has pointed to the subsequent clarifications around the budget, which is helpful and will, I hope, allow Glasgow to be, shall I say, miles bolder.

Finally, I welcome the commitment that the Government has set out in relation to the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, which is an achievable timeframe. As Gina Hanrahan of WWF Scotland has made clear:

“Decarbonising our transport sector in fifteen years will create new jobs, cut emissions and clean up our polluted air.”

That is a win-win-win situation. She also pointed to the fact that that will have an effect in accelerating the shift to electric vehicles that will set us up to lead in the development of the technologies of the future. The transport minister will not need to be reminded that I represent a part of the world that is leading the way when it comes to electric vehicle ownership. However, it is important that we see that cascade more widely across the country in the years ahead.

The committee calls for the Scottish Government to set out a timeline for reaching that goal, so that we can see the milestones along the way, including the legislative and non-legislative measures and incentives that are needed. As I have pointed out on many occasions, the charging infrastructure is absolutely key. However, it needs to be not only extensive but reliable. Charging points need to be factored into new house builds, including tenements, and the use of financial incentives such as reduced parking charges, exemption from tolls and the like should be considered.

As Graeme Dey reminded us in opening the debate, the response to the Government’s clean air strategy has been a bit mixed. However, there is an opportunity to respond to that. Air pollution is the greatest environmental challenge to public health that we face, so the Government needs to match its rhetoric with the necessary mix of ambition and urgency. The CAFS strategy remains the best means of achieving that, and I hope that the ECCLR Committee and this Parliament will continue to play their role in ensuring that that happens.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. For the avoidance of doubt, speeches should still be of five minutes, with just a few minutes in hand for interventions.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

My sole contribution to the committee’s report was to join the committee in time to get my name and photograph in it. Otherwise, my contribution to the report was entirely nil. I therefore thank all those who preceded me on the committee for the hard work that they have done. They missed a typo in paragraph 50, which has been cut and pasted into the executive summary, but let us not worry too much about that. Donald Cameron does not need to worry about his late arrival on the committee, either: I came to it much later.

As an asthmatic, I will focus on health issues for people who have problems of one sort or another with their lungs. I particularly welcome the report’s focus on diesel cars as being contributors to poor air quality. I now have a petrol car after many years of having diesel cars. I admit that my reasons for getting one were quite separate from pollution, but at least it means that I am slightly ahead of the game.

The Government’s “Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future” strategy was published in November 2015, so the strategy is about halfway through its five-year term. As others have, I will focus on particulate matter. PM2.5 relates to particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in size. Such particles are so small that they cannot be seen using an ordinary microscope; they can be seen only using an electron microscope. Because of their small size, they have a disproportionate effect. In its report on the subject, the Government highlights that the Scottish objectives in relation to PM2.5 are similar to what is laid out in the World Health Organization guidelines, which is welcome.

However, I want to highlight where the WHO is going. Through the research that it is co-ordinating and reporting on, it is becoming more aware of the impacts of PM2.5. We are talking about tiny particles, and the smaller a particle is, the greater the ratio is between the surface area and the content—in other words, there is a lot of surface area and not much content. That means that such particles are much more likely to stick to human flesh, particularly in the lungs. So small are they that they will go right down to the bottom of the lungs, to the bronchial tubes and beyond, and they are much less likely than larger particles to be expelled. That is partly why PM2.5 particles are so important.

The WHO’s “Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution”, which is a technical report, is a very meaty document of well over 300 pages. It brings to light a lot of interesting research that goes right the way back, including research from across Europe and North America, on the effects of PM2.5. It mentions that

“A systematic review reported significant associations between exposure to PM2.5 and birth outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm birth and small for gestational age births”—

and that is aside from any effects that are directly associated with lungs.

More recent research has been done that shows that exposure to such small particles even for a single hour has measurable effects on lung function that are associated with a higher rate of mortality and morbidity. The evidence on larger particles is less clear, but the issue is an extremely serious one that we need to be very careful about. Even healthy people are affected, and people who already have cardiac or lung issues are affected disproportionately badly.

Limited research has been done on the interaction between electrostatic charge and very small particles, and the WHO report lists eight areas in which further research is required. Rural areas are better. When my wife puts the washing out in Banffshire, it smells beautiful and there is no smut. If it has been out in West Lothian, it comes in black and smelly. Therefore, I say to members: live in the country and live longer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Jamie Greene. Have you spilled your water?


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Yes, my speech is wet, but I will get through it. I will try not to touch anything electrical for the next few minutes.

I agree with Stewart Stevenson that we should live in the countryside. Unfortunately, not all of us can or do. It is interesting that the league table of our most polluted cities shows that our most polluted streets are in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

I will focus less on the science and more on the policy. It is no great surprise that, according to today’s headline in The Scotsman, air pollution levels in Scotland are now a “medical emergency”. Nevertheless, that might surprise many people, given the extent to which Scotland’s economy and industry have changed over recent years and the fact that the heavy industries of Edinburgh and Glasgow that were deemed to pollute those cities have largely been replaced by service industries.

There is still a general lack of understanding among the public as to why air pollution levels are so high, what is causing that and what is being done about it. It is one of those issues that we do not think about until it affects us personally. It affects me personally, as my mother has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and she, like many people with asthma or similar conditions, knows the obvious and direct effect that air quality has on her day-to-day life. Thankfully, she lives in a part of the country that benefits from more than its fair share of fresh sea air, but a day trip to Glasgow or Edinburgh can be difficult for her and occasionally impossible. Hope Street in Glasgow is the most polluted street in Scotland, and the six most polluted streets in Scotland are in the three aforementioned cities.

In Scotland, over 2,500 deaths per year are associated with air pollution. Worldwide, air pollution causes 25 per cent of strokes, 23 per cent of heart disease and 14 per cent of lung cancers. Given that Scotland already has the highest age-standardised premature death rates for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and strokes, it is vital that we address one of the key contributing factors.

The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which is a United Kingdom body, suggests that particulate matter pollution, as it is known, is attributable to an average life loss of around three to four months in Scotland and accounts for around 5 per cent of deaths in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is not an insignificant number. Reducing that level by even just 10 micrograms per cubic metre is expected to have a greater impact on human life than eliminating passive smoking.

It is not just healthcare that is affected by air pollution, though. It also affects our economy—specifically our rural economy. Poor air quality hurts crop yields to the tune of around £183 million a year. Given that over 60 per cent of the land in Scotland is used for agriculture—for grazing and growing crops—surely there is also an economic argument for improving air quality.

In the short time that I have left, I will touch on some transport issues, because transport has a key role to play in the reduction of CO2 emissions. That is why I welcome the LEZs. However, as Donald Cameron said, there are genuine concerns about the roll-out of LEZs. For example, the roll-out in Glasgow will take place in eight months’ time, which is not far away, and I am not convinced that the public fully understand what is coming to them, especially those who have already made spending decisions or who are locked into leases or contracts for small vans or vehicles. Do they know where or when they will be able to enter LEZs? Do they know the repercussions of doing so? Communication on that issue is vital, but I am not convinced that we are there yet.

The Government is doing some good work—there is no point in denying that. The introduction of electrification on our train network is welcome, given that the class 385s will see the replacement of diesel engines. It is also welcome that some new Caledonian MacBrayne hybrid ferries are coming through the system, although there are 28 routes in operation. Yes, minibuses are cleaner and greener in our cities, but that is not the case everywhere; and, yes, many new aircraft are lighter and use less fuel. However, as has been mentioned, at the current rate of progress it will take Scotland 239 years to reach its target of 10 per cent of journeys being taken by bike—a fact that the committee noted.

Promoting active travel helps our health and economy, but it also helps us to meet our climate change targets. Improving transport options can go hand in hand with achieving our environmental ambitions. No single policy instrument will fix the problems that we face with air pollution, but it is vital that the Scottish Government is entirely focused on improving air quality and that it does so in a deliverable and reasonable way. If it does that, it will have my support and the support of the Conservatives.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Gillian Martin, to be followed by Colin Smyth. Is Mr Smyth in the chamber?

David Stewart

He has just gone out, but he will be back.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will not call him, then. I call Gillian Martin, to be followed by Finlay Carson.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I am not a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, but I followed its inquiry with interest as the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. I wanted to take part in the debate mainly to commend the committee’s work but also to praise the efforts of local groups in my constituency that are helping to improve air quality, often with Government assistance, as part of a wider effort to tackle climate change.

Keep Scotland Beautiful manages the climate challenge fund, which grants money, with contributions from the European regional development fund, to local projects such as the Beaton hall community climate action project in Methlick and the Garioch sports centre goes green project in lnverurie. Those projects will improve the energy efficiency of local amenities, and they provide home efficiency advice and fuel-efficient driver training to the public. Aberdeenshire East also includes Fetterangus—a small village that has its own wind turbine and community energy scheme. Such projects, with financial support provided by public money, can cumulatively help to improve air quality throughout Scotland and, just as important, get communities engaged in playing their part.

I also highlight local efforts that encourage others to get involved and make their own contributions. Small actions all mount up, and community and school initiatives encourage behaviour change and the buy-in that will promote the mindset change that we need if we are to meet our targets and protect the environment for our children’s futures.

As a judge in the “Dragons’ Den” part of the girls in energy event, I was struck by the fact that all the initiatives and presentations that the girls brought forward were to do with renewable energy and reducing pollution. Not one talked about a carbon-based initiative. That goes to show that young people are already grasping the fact that this is the future of energy.

Of course, the larger initiatives that are coming to fruition have an immediate impact. The installation of the world’s most powerful single wind turbine off the coast of Balmedie in my constituency is an example of that. Just one rotation of its blades is enough to power a household for an entire day. It is one of 11 turbines that will form the European offshore wind deployment centre, and it is expected to displace about 135,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and remove the equivalent of about 740,000 cars from UK roads during its lifetime.

I welcome the promised low-emission zone in Aberdeen city centre and the strategic work that is being done to keep traffic away from the centre of the city. That is long overdue not just for environmental reasons but for safety reasons.

I welcome the investment in local rail infrastructure, too. The doubling of rail track between Aberdeen and Inverurie should lead to a massive reduction in the number of commuters on the roads and a consequent reduction in emissions.

I also highlight the Scottish Government’s decision to double to £80 million the investment in a range of measures to support active travel. Many members have mentioned that investment. By creating safe, segregated walking and cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities, we can make them friendlier and safer spaces for pedestrians and cyclists and encourage a reduction in car use.

The committee’s report mentions that there should be more focus on the impact of agriculture on air quality. I note that NFU Scotland accepts that, post-Brexit, new environmental measures should address air quality. I am also aware that the practice—which is mentioned in the report—of spreading manure into rather than on to soil in order to limit the volume of pollutants that are lost to the atmosphere is already followed in my constituency.

We must recognise that improvements in air quality can be achieved as a by-product of increasing internet access. The committee does not really mention that issue, but it is significant. By increasing Scotland’s connectivity, we can increase the potential for people to work from home instead of commuting to work. That is particularly important in my constituency, where Aberdeen city seems to be a Mecca for all the work that happens. I would like the work to be spread more widely throughout the constituency. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is taking a lead on the issue, going further and faster than the UK Government and committing to ensuring that 100 per cent of premises have access to superfast broadband.

As members know, I am passionate about flexible working and encouraging new business start-ups. Part of that is about allowing more people to forgo commuting in favour of working closer to where they live, whether that involves accessing remote working or setting up in business.

We all have to play our individual parts, and I am playing mine. I am six months into a four-year lease on the most ecologically friendly hybrid car on the market, with a view to going fully electric in four years’ time at a point when we have the infrastructure in my constituency to support that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Finlay Carson, to be followed by Emma Harper and then Colin Smyth. I am keeping an appropriate political order.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on air quality as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. Although I represent a very rural constituency, and Scotland’s most beautiful—Galloway and West Dumfries—I am acutely aware of the challenges that urban communities face daily when many streets still break the EU air quality directives. However, there are serious questions to ask about rural air quality, so I will use my speech today to highlight how the rural region that I represent is facing some challenges from air pollution.

Earlier this year at the Scottish Parliament, I held a positive meeting with those behind the Border and regions airway training hub—BREATH—project, which is a cross-border partnership involving the University of the West of Scotland, Queen’s University Belfast and Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland. The project, which is backed by more than €7 million of funding, is designed to look at lung disease in the west of Scotland and Ireland.

I live in a region that I imagine members will all be shocked to hear has the highest level of COPD not just in Scotland, the UK or Europe: south-west Scotland and Ireland have the highest levels of COPD in the world, with a particular hotspot at Stranraer. I therefore disagree with Mr Stevenson when he says that it is always good to live in the countryside.

Last week, I facilitated a stakeholders’ meeting, and we are committed to progressing this and other projects that will allow world-class researchers who are working directly in Dumfries and Galloway to identify and address the causes, treatment and prevention of COPD. It might not all be down to air quality, but it certainly plays a significant part and we need to identify what that part is. The Government could assist in that process by installing air quality monitors in Cairnryan, which is home to two of our busiest ferry terminals, particularly as shipping is now recognised as a major contributor to air pollution.

We heard from Maureen Watt, the former Minister for Public Health, that there is a possible link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s. As deputy convener of the cross-party group on dementia, I am keen to highlight the fact that there is a higher rate of people living with dementia in Dumfries and Galloway than the Scottish average. Resources are already stretched across rural communities but, as well as supporting our local health services, we must ensure that urgent action is taken to implement a fit-for-purpose air policy that covers rural areas.

We are all keen to promote active lifestyles, and that can be delivered hand-in-hand with reducing air pollution. The benefits of walking and cycling can be realised only if we have the resources to deliver modal shift by making active travel the easy option every day. Dumfries and Galloway Council’s ambitious active travel plans are already delivering results. More than a quarter of journeys in Dumfries and Galloway are made on foot, which is higher than the 23 per cent figure across the country. Furthermore, 38.9 per cent of residents in Dumfries and Galloway have access to bicycles compared with the national average of 34.9 per cent.

Of course, we need to look at ways of reducing emissions while still travelling by car, which is all but essential in rural constituencies such as mine. We need to accelerate the installation of electric charging points for vehicles in rural areas with an ambition to phase out petrol and diesel cars, but we really should consider giving rural communities incentives to own electric cars. I recognise the major challenge that faces our cities when it comes to emissions, but our rural communities cannot be left at a disadvantage.

I hope that the committee’s inquiry has highlighted to the Scottish Government that there is still a lot of work to be done in a number of areas of Scotland if it is to get serious about air quality. There are serious doubts about who will deliver the policies, when they will be implemented and whether the resources are there to do it. It is a serious concern for our urban and rural communities.

The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s report is an important step forward in challenging what has been done to tackle air quality, and I am pleased to have been part of the inquiry. We will continue to monitor the steps that the Government is taking to meet the European directives that it has missed for far too long. I hope that our next inquiry will be able to report significant improvements.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in this afternoon’s debate on the air quality in Scotland inquiry. I thank the committee members, clerks and witnesses for the work that they have done in producing the report. As a former member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee who helped to suggest the issue of air quality, I wanted to contribute today.

I am sure that many members will agree that recognising and tackling poor air quality is vital if we are going to support healthier people, a healthier society and ultimately a healthier planet.

The cabinet secretary mentioned the cross-portfolio responsibility for air quality, and the report recommends that discussions continue with the Minister for Local Government and Housing

“to ensure the planning and placemaking ambitions set out”

in the CAFS strategy are fully realised. The report also recommends that

“Air quality must be a key component in the reviews of the national planning framework and national planning policy.”

I am reminded of a statement last year from the First Minister, who suggested that

“There may well be a merit in having individual cabinet secretaries reporting on the action within their own portfolio”

to tackle climate change. Of course, air quality is part of that.

This report on air quality covers evidence for implementing the low-emission zones in Scotland, which is extremely important. However, I would like to focus my comments on the four pages of the report that relate to other causes of air pollution. The first cause is agricultural emissions and the second is wood-burning stoves and biomass.

The eight paragraphs that are dedicated to agriculture may be a reflection on the limited information on agriculture in the CAFS strategy, so I agree with the committee’s recommendation that the strategy be updated in relation to agriculture.

As part of my work in the South Scotland region, I am aware that there are processes and products available to help to reduce agricultural emissions. We know that pH testing of soil is now pretty much widely accepted by farmers in order to increase efficiency, reduce costs and reduce greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxide from fertiliser spread. That is good.

I know that there are biological products such as yeast for ruminants and now products that are used in the management of slurry to maintain a liquid consistency so that machinery does not block during spreading. Those slurry products provide a natural biological agitator. The biological agitator is added to the slurry stores and does not cost a lot compared with a tractor engine that is idling for multiple hours, which causes pollution, and has a mechanical agitator attached. The biological agitator saves farmers time and money and reduces diesel emissions.

Anaerobic digesters are also utilised to process slurry and harness the more potent polluter methane to generate electricity rather than allowing it to escape to the atmosphere. Incidentally, anaerobic digesters can be used on a smaller scale for waste such as dog poo in public parks to power the lights. That may encourage folk to pick up after their poopy pooch and I would encourage that.

I realise that there are cross-portfolio aspects to managing agricultural emissions between the environment and rural portfolios. As parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, I am happy to engage at any point to help support this work.

There is good news for agriculture and I echo the report’s suggestion that the Government should provide guidance to the sector on how to adopt such scientific techniques to help to improve air quality and reduce emissions from our farms.

My second point relates to wood-burning stoves. As convener of the cross-party group on lung health and as a nurse, I have a keen interest in looking at what we can do to highlight issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The report notes that research needs to be undertaken to look at

“the extent of pollutants emanating from wood burning stoves and biomass boilers ... so that informed decisions can be made”

on what is required to mitigate any harmful effects. I welcome that. There is already good evidence out there that particulate matter leads to lung problems. Stewart Stevenson has already talked about PM2.5. This is a problem especially for children and other vulnerable people such as folk with asthma.

The COPD issue in the south-west of Scotland has been highlighted and expertly discussed by Finlay Carson. I am glad that he mentioned it, because I was able to help support the launch of the BREATH project last year.

I have one last point to make on active travel—on walking and cycling. I know that there is not a lot of time, but I would support the creation of a national cycle route in the south-west of Scotland so that we can have safe, segregated cycling infrastructure.

I thank the committee members and the clerks for the air quality report and I welcome the Government’s response on the action that will be taken on the report’s recommendations.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I commend members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for their work on this inquiry. The final report is a comprehensive and insightful examination of the Government’s cleaner air for Scotland strategy and it will play an important role in informing future work on the matter.

As a substitute member of the committee, I have followed progress in the inquiry closely. Of course, many of the issues that are covered by the report cut across the work of other committees, highlighting the need for a cross-Government approach to tackling the problem of air pollution.

As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which deals with transport, and as convener of the cross-party group on heart disease and stroke, I particularly want to focus my comments on the negative impact of air pollution on our health, and the important role that our transport choices play in minimising that impact.

The link between poor air quality and ill health is well documented. It is estimated that air pollution contributes to as many as 40,000 premature deaths each year across the UK. It has been linked with heart disease and stroke, as well as cancer, asthma, diabetes and many other health conditions.

The British Heart Foundation Scotland describes air pollution as the invisible problem—we cannot see it, but it is all around us. The foundation has funded research in Scotland that shows the devastating effect that air pollution has on our hearts: it makes existing conditions worse and increases the risk of developing others, and there is a clear link between air pollution levels and heart attacks.

Even short-term exposure to large amounts of air pollution has been linked with a higher risk of developing angina, as was highlighted by Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland in its submission to the Health and Sport Committee ahead of that committee’s evidence session today. Studies have shown that air pollution can trigger atrial fibrillation—a common type of abnormal heartbeat that significantly increases the risk of stroke.

Air pollution has a disproportionate effect on the health of children and older adults, and it contributes to Scotland’s shameful health inequalities, with deprived urban communities often experiencing particularly high levels of air pollution. Reducing air pollution is, therefore, not only an environmental necessity but a health and equalities one. As Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland said in its evidence to the Health and Sport Committee:

“Air pollution should be treated as a health emergency and not constrained by the current slow pace of negotiation and action.”

Key to tackling this health emergency are the transport choices that we make, and I welcome the committee’s strong focus on that. A recent report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found that, in instances where legal air quality limits were being broken, transport was responsible for 80 per cent of roadside pollution.

We will not tackle air pollution without a drastic change in our transport habits—in particular, promoting alternative forms of transport to the car is crucial. The percentage of journeys made by bike increased by just 0.2 per cent between 2010 and 2016, and bus usage in Scotland continues to plummet. I therefore welcome the Government’s plans to increase spending on active travel, but it is important to ensure that the benefits of that investment are widely shared. Disadvantaged communities and rural areas must not be left behind when it comes to investment in active travel, but that is all too often the case at present.

Similarly, there must be an effort to remove the barriers that face certain groups. Roger Geffen, the policy director of Cycling UK, noted that UK cycling conditions

“disproportionately deter young people, older people, women and people with disabilities from cycling”,

and similar challenges prevent people within those groups from walking. Just last weekend, I took part in an initiative by a local charity, Buddies, which is promoting accessible cycling in partnership with the cycling Dumfries campaign. Its bikers buddies scheme, which includes specially adapted bikes for disabled people, is breaking down the barriers to cycling for many within the local community.

Such locally driven projects allow for innovative thinking and are able to respond to the specific needs and challenges of their communities. When I chaired Dumfries and Galloway Council’s economy, environment and infrastructure committee—I am sure that Finlay Carson will be delighted to know that that was when we agreed the active travel plan that he commended earlier—I had the privilege of being involved in a fantastic initiative called beat the street, which many members will have seen in their communities. It prompted a significant increase in cycling and walking in towns across the region. I strongly recommend the roll-out of such an initiative across the whole country, not just as a one-off, which is what often happens in communities, but permanently.

However, despite the increase in active travel funding, on-going cuts to local authority budgets pose a serious threat to many of the local initiatives on active travel. Stopping and reversing cuts in local government is vital in order to promote active travel, but also to help reverse the decline in bus usage, providing the necessary support to maintain services and, hopefully soon, as David Stewart said, a more regulated bus sector.

In its submission to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, Lothian Buses highlighted the fact that one bus represents 75 vehicles being removed from the road. The scope for buses to reduce congestion and air pollution is huge, but that requires buses to be made more convenient, accessible, affordable and properly regulated. By delivering a step change in our transport choices, through better active travel and increased bus usage, we can play a huge role in tackling the health crisis that air pollution is inflicting on far too many of our communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

We are tight for time, so I ask members to tighten up on hitting the five-minute mark.


Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Air quality does not receive enough attention but has a profound effect not only on our health but on Scotland’s green credentials.

As most of us are aware, numerous policies and strategies at local, national and international levels—from the WHO and European guidelines through to local development plans—feed into the criteria for air quality. In 2015, the Scottish Government published its cleaner air for Scotland strategy, which, it should be noted, adopted the WHO guideline value for fine particulate matter rather than the less stringent European value. That is important, as the potential cost of air pollution on health is great in the long and short term.

Research on the cardiovascular effects of air pollution dates back to the 1950s and the major smog that occurred in London in 1952. A comparison of the data for 1951 and 1952 shows that an estimated 4,000 extra premature deaths can be attributed to respiratory and cardiovascular disease during the three weeks following the beginning of the smog.

Many studies since then have built upon that link. Research that was funded by the British Heart Foundation in 2013 found a link between

“increased hospitalisation rates and poor short-term air quality in those with heart failure.”

In 2014, the European study of cohorts for air pollution effects found that long-term exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres—PM2.5—is strongly linked to heart attacks and angina.

It was reported last week that researchers studying PM2.5 levels in Utah concluded that even short-term increases in air pollution can be linked to a higher risk of developing viral chest infections, which have the potential to turn into conditions such as bronchitis. The researchers found that, in some cases, the infections proved deadly: 26 children and 81 adults died within a month of diagnosis during the 1999 to 2016 period that was studied. That can be seen in the context of the global burden of disease study 2012, which stated that outdoor air pollution was the ninth leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In addition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states that urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.

The situation in the UK has been exacerbated by the substantial increase in the number of cars on the roads, which rose from 19 million in 1980 to 34.5 million in 2012, and the ill-judged promotion of diesel cars, which have lower carbon dioxide emissions but higher, and toxic, nitrogen dioxide emissions. The Scottish Government’s proposal to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 is a sensible and proactive step that will bring huge benefits, even as we move away from the current state of affairs over the next 14 years. There will clearly need to be investment in alternative modes of transport. To that end, the promised extension of the electric charging infrastructure is to be welcomed warmly.

I accept that the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has questions about the implementation of low-emission zones. It is right to question that. It is to be hoped that the Scottish Government’s strengthening of its cleaner air for Scotland governance group will provide reassurance on its commitment to that cause. In appointing the British Heart Foundation and Professor Campbell Gemmell—an expert in science, policy and regulation—to the group, the Government is reinforcing its aim of having the cleanest air in Europe.

That announcement, which was made at the end of March, also set out further details of the financial support available for low-emission zones. More than 70 per cent of this year’s £10.8 million funding is going to support the retrofitting of more than 300 Glasgow buses—over 40 per cent of the city centre fleet.

My constituency has seen its share of air quality issues. Musselburgh High Street—the main thoroughfare in the town—has historically exceeded the annual NO2 mean objective. A detailed assessment in 2008 was followed in 2013 by an official council designation of the area from the Newbigging junction to the Bridge Street junction as an air quality management area. A subsequent assessment in 2014 found that road traffic was a principal source of the excess NO2. Given the importance of the High Street to the Musselburgh economy, and in light of the health issues that we know that air pollution can cause, it was clear that action had to be taken to improve the air quality in the area.

The 2014 assessment included a source apportionment exercise. That process assesses the sources of pollutants, confirms whether excesses of NO2 are due to road traffic, determines the extent to which different vehicle types are responsible for the emissions contributions, and quantifies what proportion of omissions is due to background or local emissions from busy roads in the local area. At one particular point in Musselburgh High Street, it was found that the highest proportion of emissions could be attributed to buses, which accounted for 38 per cent of emissions measured. In contrast, queueing traffic contributed the largest actual average proportion of emissions in all locations bar one, accounting for an average of 34 per cent.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please come to a close.

Colin Beattie

Clearly, air quality is one area in which all branches of Government must work together to ensure the health of Scotland’s citizens. Between the funding that is provided by the Government at a macro level and local authority action at the micro level, we can ensure that the people of Scotland can live free from air pollution as soon as possible.


James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank the committee for the important work that it has done in this area. I confess that the policy issue of air quality is not one that I have followed closely. However, in preparation for the debate, I considered the fact that air pollution is responsible for up to 2,500 deaths in Scotland, and noted that the front page of today’s Scotsman says that medical charities are saying that the issue counts as a “medical emergency”. I also noted that, last year, the WHO said that Glasgow—the region that I represent—has worse pollution than London. From those few examples, it is clear that there are major issues in this policy area.

I will address a local example and then relate that to some of the general issues that the committee has raised. I stay in Cambuslang, which is part of the Glasgow region. In 2016, Main Street in Cambuslang was cited as one of the most polluted streets in Scotland, with 45 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre. The reasons for that are obvious. It is an area with intense traffic. It is near the motorway, which is important for connectivity with regard to the economy but which obviously increases traffic through Main Street.

In addition, a lot of vehicles use Main Street due to inadequate bus services. Recently, a constituent approached me with an issue about bus travel to Hairmyres hospital, which is about 4 miles away from Cambuslang. A lot of people travel to hospital by bus, and the constituent described to me the journey that he has to take to get there, which involves walking for a quarter of a mile, taking a bus to East Kilbride and then taking a further bus to the hospital—a journey that takes about an hour and a quarter in total. Such a journey is a challenge for people who do not have cars, and there is a general transport issue here. If we are trying to encourage people to use public transport instead of cars, it is important that we ensure that there are appropriate bus routes to destinations such as hospitals. I know that Cambuslang community council has campaigned strongly on the issue. It has demanded greater enforcement, and has said that the area should be a priority for the establishment of a low-emission zone—there is a strong case for that.

With regard to the issues that the committee’s report has identified, there is clearly a frustration around the timescales that the Government has set and concern about whether there is sufficient funding and infrastructure for the four low-emission zones that will be set up. The resignation of the Scottish Environment LINK representative from the Government’s strategy group indicates that not all is well in this area.

There remain challenges for local government funding. I do not want to rerun the budget debate, but it is clear that the Government has not prioritised council funding over a number of years. If we want local government to be part of the effort to meet the policy challenge of reducing emissions and ensuring better air quality, councils need to be properly funded.

A number of members have pointed out the challenges around active travel. In 2016, 42 per cent of adults drove every day, so promoting active travel is still a major task. As others have said, there are great benefits in getting people to walk or cycle to their destination. As well as reducing emissions, it can make people fitter and healthier. There also remains the challenge of getting people out of petrol and diesel vehicles and into low-emission vehicles. As has been pointed out, there needs to be greater awareness of and information about low-emission vehicles.

Greater leadership from the Government is needed to overcome the technical, funding and political challenges presented by the issue of air quality.


Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in the debate, not just because I am a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee but because my constituency plays host to Scotland’s largest petrochemical and refinery industries. Air quality is an issue that I take considerable interest in, as do many of my constituents.

We all rely on the quality of Scotland’s air to be as good as it can be. It is therefore vital that we all work together to ensure that we are taking the right, ambitious steps, at the right pace, to safeguard the quality of our air now and for the future.

The Scottish Government’s CAFS strategy is indeed ambitious. However, as the convener alluded to, the committee agreed that the strategy should remain under review to ensure that it continues to be fit for purpose. It is fair to say that “complex” is the simplest description of the changing nature of environmental legislation and advice. Therefore, it is only right therefore that any strategy has enough room to manoeuvre in the face of significant and rapid change.

There is, however, a responsibility on all of us to ensure that we work together to provide the opportunities to realise the ambitions in CAFS. We should ensure that there is always cohesion between national and local policy decisions regarding their impact on air quality and the measures to mitigate that impact. The committee recommended that ministers should consider what more can be done to achieve cohesion and resolve any issues that may be seen as a barrier to that.

In undertaking that approach, there is a strong and important role for the cleaner air for Scotland governance group. I was extremely disappointed about the resignation of Scottish Environment LINK from the governance group. While I can understand, to a degree, Scottish Environment LINK’s frustration and the reasoning behind the resignation, the way forward is to collaborate, not to shout at the Scottish Government from the sidelines. I hope that Scottish Environment LINK has a change of heart and resumes its constructive role in the governance group in the near future.

The easiest way to change things is to change them from within. Now is the time for stakeholders not to walk away from the table but to come together to implement workable and effective solutions. Despite the action of Scottish Environment LINK, I was pleased to hear that the governance group was strengthened recently by specialists in health, environmental science and regulation with, as Colin Beattie referred to, the addition of the British Heart Foundation and the appointment of Professor Campbell GemmelI. That is progress.

I am glad to be able to highlight that in my constituency, and indeed across Falkirk district, measures to improve air quality are already being put in place and achieving results. Of the 39 automatic air quality monitoring sites across Scotland, 12 are in the Falkirk Council area. While there have undoubtedly been air quality issues in Falkirk district in the past, monitoring results for last year confirm that the national air quality standard objectives for NO2 were met at all seven NO2 monitoring sites in Falkirk Council’s automatic network. Long-term NO2 monitoring data also indicates a downward trend in NO2 concentrations in the Falkirk area, at both background and roadside sites, so progress is being made.

The six automatic sulphur dioxide monitors in the Falkirk network met all three—15-minute, hourly and daily—NAQS objectives in 2016. The 2016 results continue the objective compliance recorded in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Long-term SO2 trend analysis at the Grangemouth automatic urban and rural network site shows a decline in SO2 concentrations since the commissioning of the tail gas treatment unit at Ineos Grangemouth—now Petroineos—in 2013.

I know that the mere mention of Ineos can trigger Pavlovian-type reactions from diehard environmentalists, but credit has to be given when it is due. Following significant exceedances and breaches of SO2 limits in the past, Ineos invested £32 million in the tail gas unit—or the sulphur recovery unit, as it is known locally—which became operational in 2013. However, it is worth noting for the record that the UK has a 15-minute air quality objective for SO2, which is additional to the EU requirements, so although there were breaches of the UK limits in Grangemouth, the refinery was within the European limits. That aside, the breaches led to the refinery investing £32 million in a tail gas treatment unit five years ahead of the future industrial emissions directive requirement to upgrade by this year, 2018.

That is just one example of how local industry is working hard to improve air quality, and credit is due to Ineos for doing that. There is sustained, long-term progress in reducing Scottish emissions and ensuring improvements to air quality countrywide. It is not all doom and gloom, but of course there is much more to do, both locally and nationally. While domestic and European air quality targets are being met across much of Scotland, poor air quality remains an issue in a number of our towns and cities, and as the ECCLR Committee report states, effective change is needed now so that all of us can breathe clean air and lead healthy lives in the future, but a joint effort is needed to make sure that that happens.


Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

Air is something that we cannot ignore. It is the very thing that is keeping us alive, which makes the quality of our air all the more important. I am grateful to see members on all sides of the chamber taking the debate so seriously.

I was pleased to see in the committee report that some progress has been made through efforts to improve air quality, but I share the concerns of my fellow Scottish Conservatives about the Scottish Government’s long-term approach and implementation. I represent the rural constituency of Aberdeenshire West. I know that we probably take air quality for granted there, given the abundance of lichen on trees, which is—for those who are unaware of it—a useful indicator of air quality, but we still need to do our bit to assist Scotland, the United Kingdom and our planet.

One step that we can take is to improve public transport. However, constituents of mine increasingly find that bus routes are being shortened and that services are being reduced or even cancelled. If we are to bring about a society that is aiming to reduce our carbon emissions, we need to work with our communities and with transport companies to ensure that we provide to residents services that they will use. With bus-fleet numbers having fallen by 11 per cent over the past five years, and passenger numbers having fallen by 16 per cent from a peak in 2007-08, I fear that we are not achieving that.

To add to that, the bus industry has concerns about the introduction of low-emission zones. If they are introduced without sufficient lead-in times, firms will be forced to withdraw services or dramatically to increase fares in order to get their fleets to achieve standards and maintain current service levels. Although rural areas are unlikely be registered as LEZs, I have no doubt that rural residents will pay to cover costs indirectly through increased bus fares.

Members will be aware that both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have a commitment to phasing out petrol and diesel cars, which is very much to be welcomed. With a move to electric vehicles coming into force, there is the much bigger issue of considering the national grid’s ability to support the surge in electricity use. I have met various energy stakeholders over my two years as an MSP, and although all of them are very much on board with the switch to cleaner energy consumption, there is a big concern about how we can facilitate that use purely through renewable energy. I therefore encourage the cabinet secretary to ensure that the Government works with energy suppliers in Scotland and the UK, so that we can achieve a national grid that is able to withstand the demands that will be placed on it.

It will be counterproductive for us to push for a move to electric vehicles if it means our having to rely on oil and gas to facilitate their use. There is a delicate and complex balance to be struck, but it is one that I know we can achieve through proper consultation of stakeholders. The move to electric vehicles does not require just people trading in their vehicles for cleaner modes of transport; we also need to build our infrastructure.

In our 2017 policy paper, “Global Challenge, Local Leadership”, the Scottish Conservatives outlined the need to establish funds to expand electric-vehicle charging points in small towns, rural areas and train stations; for electric-vehicle sharing schemes in major cities, whereby users can pick up and drop off cars at charging stations; for a requirement on all public bodies to conduct a cost benefit analysis of replacing their existing vehicle fleets with electric vehicles; and for mandating consideration of electric vehicles in their future procurement plans.

I am sure that all members will accept that, in order to sustain a cleaner transport system, proper infrastructure is required. Our policies are bold and require long-term investment, but if we do not act we will not be able to improve our air quality for future generations. We all know that action is required now.

I look forward to the Scottish Government considering our proposals and working with the whole Parliament to achieve a cleaner and greener system that will improve not only our air quality, but our environment.


Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Scotland has much to be proud of in its role as a leader on the issue. With more stringent air quality targets than elsewhere in the UK, and with domestic and European targets across much of Scotland being met, we are making progress.

“Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future”, which was Scotland’s first national air quality strategy, was published in 2015. It set out intended action until 2020, which has been backed up by practical and financial support to local authorities from the Scottish National Party Government. Measures to tackle local air-pollution hotspots, including £3 million in annual funding, coupled with transport initiatives, have delivered 1,200 electric-vehicle charging bays and more than £16 million of funding via the green bus fund to introduce more than 360 low-emission buses to the Scottish fleet.

I will linger on transport policy, because it is an area of interest. I will ask a question in the chamber later this week about utilisation and, which is more important, normalisation of electric cars as we move into the future. For example, if we are serious about tackling air pollution from vehicles, then house builders and, by extension, local authorities need to ensure that they consider inclusion of car-charging points at properties and developments.

Vehicle manufacturers also need to play their part. That includes accurate reporting on their vehicles’ emissions, rather than the misreporting practices that we have seen in recent years. Better integration of infrastructure and building will help us to work towards a greener future with less polluted air. We must get ready for tomorrow today.

On that notion, I will reflect on the ECCLR Committee’s work in pursuit of its inquiry. As other members have said, the committee actively engaged with local communities during the inquiry, including a visit to Corstorphine in Edinburgh. An area’s having poor air quality due to pollution will naturally be of concern to the people who live there. However, monitoring being undertaken in the first place should allow for targeted action to be taken, which is why I believe that we must do more to support active monitoring and addressing of air quality throughout Scotland.

For national strategies to be fully implemented and their bold ambitions to be achieved, there needs to be alignment at all levels—from the Scottish Government and partner agencies to local authorities, right across the country. Although the committee was heartened by what it heard about co-operation at different levels of Government, as well as between organisations and professions, it also noted that there was not universality in the positive approaches that are being taken. That said, the Scottish Government works with SEPA, Transport Scotland, Health Protection Scotland and others to reduce air pollution further and to deliver benefits for human and environmental health.

Local authorities that have air quality management areas in place have produced action plans, and the Scottish Government is working closely with them to help them to implement the plans and to deliver air quality improvements. I hope to play my part by supporting plans locally in Lanarkshire to raise awareness of the issue of air quality and the development of our own local strategies.

It is clear that the Scottish Government is making progress in its aim to have the cleanest air in Europe. Examples that have already been cited and, indeed, the recent announcement of the appointment of additional members to the cleaner air for Scotland governance group, which oversees delivery of Scotland’s strategy for cutting air pollution and reducing its impact on health—that is important—illustrate that point.

As we all work together to improve air quality and to deliver an active nation, let us commit ourselves to redoubling our efforts to promote the many ways in which we can all contribute across our communities to making Scotland an even more fresh and beautiful place in which to live and work.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I congratulate all the members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on the excellent work on the report, and I congratulate my colleague David Stewart, who was a member of the committee when that work was being done.

A number of members have said that we should not lose sight of the committee’s key recommendations and that we should ensure that the Government takes them on board. As committee convener Graeme Dey said, it is worth restating that the committee said:

“The Committee considers that, as highlighted in evidence, the Scottish Government’s yearly progress report is insufficiently clear to allow an accurate assessment of progress against the 34 original actions laid out in”

the cleaner air for Scotland strategy. That must be a key concern for Parliament, given the detail that we received from Friends of the Earth Scotland. It stated:

“Air pollution is still killing off around 2,500 people a year in Scotland and we are not on track to meet the Scottish Government’s target of clean air by 2020.”

That is quite an incredible statistic, which I had to check, because I thought that it could not be right.

The report that we are debating is crucial to the future wellbeing of the people of Scotland. The issue impacts on people here and now. As James Kelly said, The Scotsman highlighted that on its front page today.

The report says:

“the Committee recommends that a more transparent progress report is provided in future updates to show the status of the delivery against each individual action.”

We need to expect that to happen.

The report also focuses on the planning system. The Planning (Scotland) Bill is making its way through Parliament, so there is the opportunity in our legislative framework to ensure that we take a joined-up approach to the cleaner air for Scotland strategy—certainly, when it comes to planning.

I note that the committee has asked for further information on funding for local authorities to deliver the cleaner air for Scotland strategy outcomes around behavioural change. I look forward to the Government providing that information.

The report makes a number of recommendations with regard to LEZs. Friends of the Earth Scotland stated:

“For Scotland’s Low Emission Zones to be a success, emissions from buses, vans, lorries, cars, and taxis must all be cleaned up in urban centres as quickly as possible. In Glasgow, this means that within a year, all buses running through the city centre”

should be able to meet the latest emissions standards,

“and other vehicles should be included in the zone as soon as possible thereafter.”

I think that there is consensus that, if we are going to do that, we should get it right. That means addressing what Friends of the Earth Scotland referred to as the current “lacklustre” proposal that is on the table from Glasgow City Council.

I am pleased that the report picks up on the stated commitment from the current Scottish Government to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. The committee made the point that we now need to see the detail of what that will involve, what the timelines are, and what measures will need to be taken to make it happen.

It is easy to look to the future and to make big commitments on the environment, but Governments and companies must be held to account now, which means setting out clearly how commitments will be met and how progress towards targets will be measured.

The report on air quality that we have debated today, and which we are being asked to note, contains very robust recommendations on ensuring that progress in delivery of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy is monitored and put on track to deliver what it says is its intention.

Although the cabinet secretary has responded to the report in Parliament today, I look forward to the Government publishing its response, because I hope that we can generate a wider debate across Scotland. The British Heart Foundation Scotland has said that air pollution is the largest environmental risk factor that is linked to deaths in the UK. It argues—I agree—that air quality monitoring information should be improved so that it reaches down to community level and is more easily accessible to the public as a whole. Given the statistics that we have received on the impact of air quality in our towns and cities, we have to raise public awareness. The more information we can make available, the better.


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

We need to tackle air pollution and it is clear from the contributions today that that mood is felt throughout the chamber. Air pollution is a major problem in Scotland. It is damaging public health and resulting in 2,500 deaths per year according to Friends of the Earth. It contributes to cancer and respiratory diseases. Jamie Greene highlighted how his mother has been affected by poor air quality and suggested that 5 per cent of deaths could be attributed in some way to poor air quality. Finlay Carson flagged up that his constituency has the highest incidence of COPD in the world.

That is why I welcome the SNP’s promise to take action, with new petrol and diesel cars being phased out by 2032 and transport emissions being cut by 37 per cent. The introduction of low-emission zones is a positive step, and the first will be introduced in Glasgow by the end of 2018. Moreover, 10 per cent of journeys are to be made by bike by 2020.

By December 2010, air quality in Scotland was meant to achieve only 18 micrograms per cubic metre of particulate matter—or less—but that target was missed. The annual EU ambient air quality directive standard has been broken since 2010 and, as the five-year EU extension has now expired, Glasgow, Edinburgh, central Scotland and north-east Scotland are all non-compliant for nitrogen dioxide levels, which was a point well made by Donald Cameron.

I congratulate Graeme Dey on his leadership of the ECCLR Committee’s inquiry on air quality in Scotland. I also flag up his comments about there being a “degree of disconnect” between the national bodies and local authorities. I welcome, as he did on behalf of the committee, the aspiration of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy. Moreover, I agree with the cabinet secretary who said in her opening remarks that more needed to be done. Angus MacDonald followed and said:

“It is not all doom and gloom”,

but that we need a joint effort today to deal with the problem. Richard Lyle flagged up that we need a better interagency approach to improve air quality and he spoke about redoubling our efforts; I associate myself with those comments.

We need to improve monitoring. Scottish regulations do not oblige councils to act. Scottish councils must monitor pollution, but they do not need to achieve compliance with standards. That is why the inquiry by the ECCLR Committee recommends an urgent review of monitoring regulations so that we can identify and rectify problems. We must make air quality monitors available to every school. Last year, SEPA had just 10 monitors to loan to schools, five of which were broken. It is clear that we need to do more.

We must tackle transport emissions. Cars, vans and HGVs account for around 69 per cent of our transport emissions, which is why more progress is required on electric cars. The electric vehicle loan scheme has been used only 500 times since 2011, with just 214 loan applications being made over the past year. We need more detailed timelines, measures and incentives, as well as milestones, so that we can check on progress.

Liam McArthur said that Orkney is leading the way in electric vehicle ownership. More needs to be done so that the rest of Scotland can catch up. The introduction of charging bays in all new developments would be a positive approach. We must encourage electric vehicle ownership by expanding charging points.

We must also invest in active travel and in the provision of segregated cycle routes in each city. Alexander Burnett made those points adeptly.

In a typically well-informed speech, Mark Ruskell talked about the introduction of low-emission zones. We are broadly supportive of the concept but we have concerns about the timescale for the introduction of LEZs. It took about two years to implement the London LEZ, and London has congestion charge infrastructure that Glasgow, of course, does not have. As Donald Cameron said, the implementation of low-emission zones must be practical and achievable.

Urban consolidation hubs can work hand in hand with low-emission zones.

Numerous members talked about bus services. We must not rush into low-emission zones in a way that pushes up fares or reduces routes. In Renfrewshire, the number 19 route was recently lost. David Stewart highlighted that issue and said that automatic number plate recognition is a pre-requisite for a low-emission zone. James Kelly talked about inadequate bus services to key locations such as hospitals.

We must improve the monitoring of air quality, introduce low-emission zones in a timely fashion and encourage the movement towards ownership of electric vehicles.


The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

This has been a good debate. I welcome the committee’s report and thank the people who gave evidence to the committee. I will try to rifle through some of the key themes. I will focus on transport, as many members have done, although I will touch on one or two other issues if time allows.

As I think all members said, progress has been made on air quality in Scotland, although there is no doubt that we still have challenging hot spots. I found Jamie Greene’s account of his personal experience and that of his mother to be interesting and insightful; he reminded us that there is a human element to air quality, beyond the statistics that we often talk about.

It is worth mentioning the progress that has been made. Monitoring data shows that air pollution in Scotland is on a clear downward trend. The number of exceeding sites went down from 14 in 2013 to six in 2017 for nitrogen dioxide and from 17 in 2013 to six in 2017 for particulate matter. Good progress is being made.

Notwithstanding that, there remain challenges. We are bringing forward radical transport measures, a few of which were mentioned in the debate.

On low-emission zones, it is probably worth highlighting the relationship between national and local Government. National Government is looking to set a national framework in that regard—hence our consultation—and we are collaborating closely with local government. That is why we have the four cities steering group, which should give confidence to members who have asked us to take a joined-up approach. However, it is up to local authorities to come forward with the detail of what a low-emission zone would look like in their city or local authority area. That is the right approach, because local authorities know their areas and are able to have conversations at local level.

Graeme Dey

Does the minister recognise, as the committee does, the obvious expertise that exists in Glasgow City Council on the development of low-emission zones, and does he see an opportunity for that expertise to be shared with other cities?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, and the four cities steering group will help with that shared learning and practice.

There is sometimes confusion about the introduction of low-emission zones. The timescale for Glasgow is the end of 2018; if I remember correctly, Glasgow’s paper said it would be 23:59 on 31 December, so we are talking about the very end of 2018.

It is worth saying that there is a difference between the introduction of that low-emission zone and its lead-in time and phasing in, which are completely different concepts. On lead-in time, for example, we know that Glasgow will have a particular number or percentage of buses that it wishes to have in Euro 6 by the introduction of the low-emission zone, and the ambition progressively to increase that every year right the way through until—if my memory serves me correctly—2022, with cars dovetailing in at the end of that.

I will give way to David Stewart.

David Stewart

I remind the minister of the Japanese island development act, which I know is a favourite of his.

One of the key points about low-emission zones is enforcement. I have looked very carefully at the London model. As has already been mentioned, vehicle recognition technology is vital. I know that the Scottish Government is in partnership with Glasgow, but it is very expensive to do that. There is no point in having an LEZ if it cannot be enforced. Does the minister share my view that we have to use the technology, and that it is not enough to use it just for bus lanes? It is very expensive to get it in place to do 360 degrees around Glasgow.

Humza Yousaf

David Stewart’s suggestion is a very good one. Number plate recognition cameras and technologies absolutely have a place when it comes to low-emission zones, but I would not impose them on local authorities, who have to make the right decision on the technology that is best for them. That might be ANPR or another technology. It might also make sense for that technology to be in place for cars but, for buses, to have another monitoring regime that the council might wish to roll out. We should allow that level of flexibility.

I see that time is escaping me. I take the points that were made around funding and I hope that we have been able to give reassurances. I take Mark Ruskell’s point about having more detail on the financial transaction and how that money can be used. I say to him that its absence is not through lack of trying: it is simply that we have to work through some of the state aid issues and discuss with the bus industry how it might best be used. However, as soon as I have an update on that, I promise to ensure that Mark Ruskell is kept up to date.

I should say that our conversation with the bus industry on low-emission zones has been very positive. Retrofitting has been mentioned, but I caution members against putting all their eggs in that basket. While retrofitting might work for some bus operators, others—perhaps because of the age of their fleets—are much more likely to look at, for example, grants to help them to purchase Euro 6 or, indeed, electric buses, and that is important.

Again, because time is escaping me, I will not go into detail on legal mechanisms other than to say that the Transport (Scotland) Bill offers us an opportunity to ensure that we have the best legislative framework possible for low-emission zones.

A number of members mentioned active travel and I agree that that should be a priority for Government—hence the doubling of the active travel budget. A significant proportion of that will go towards cycling infrastructure, as Emma Harper and a few other members mentioned. Out-of-the-box thinking will be necessary, too. For example, I am very keen for us to explore how we can get more people to use electric bikes. Electric vehicles were also mentioned by a number of members—I know that Liam McArthur has a particular interest in that. I will update Parliament once we have the milestones on how we seek to reach our very ambitious target by 2032.

In conclusion, there has been a good amount of consensus around the chamber—and so there should be. If we get things right, we will create a cleaner, greener planet—not just for future generations but for the here and now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call John Scott to close the debate on behalf of the committee. Take us up to five o’clock, please, Mr Scott.


John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, albeit one who seeks to keep damage to our air quality to a minimum.

The mortality burden in the UK from exposure to outdoor air pollution is equivalent to 40,000 deaths every year, and Scotland’s share of that death toll is 2,500 deaths per year. Mark Ruskell, Finlay Carson, Emma Harper and Colin Beattie all referred to that. In addition, recently published research suggests a link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the well-established links to cancers and respiratory diseases. That is a huge cost in human life and health to our health service. Our environment bears a huge cost, too, with noxious gases being released—mostly from vehicles, although some are from agriculture, too—further adding to the unwelcome mix of gases that threaten the future of our planet as well as our health.

The Government was right in developing a cleaner air for Scotland strategy, with 34 key actions, which it published in 2015, almost three years ago. However, our committee’s report, while acknowledging the Scottish Government’s good intentions, poses more questions than answers. Specifically, the committee considers that the Scottish Government’s yearly progress report

“is insufficiently clear to allow an accurate assessment of progress against the 34 ... actions laid out in CAFS”,

and it believes that a more transparent and detailed approach is required

“to show the status of the delivery against each individual action”.

Graeme Dey, Roseanna Cunningham and Alex Rowley all referred to that.

In the committee’s view, the solution to those failings is that the various cabinet secretaries and ministers who are responsible for the multifaceted approach that is required to deliver better air quality must work together in a more integrated and collaborative way than they have previously done to enhance national planning policy and deliver a better planning framework, as well as resolve the apparent disconnect between national agencies and local authorities, which Liam McArthur, Colin Smyth and Maurice Golden mentioned. In addition, from the evidence that the committee heard, it is far from clear that local authorities have been given sufficient resource by Government to meet the national outcomes that are expected of them, as Donald Cameron and James Kelly said.

That is why the committee seeks an update on the progress that is being made on the introduction of the four LEZs by the end of June 2018, because there is a lack of clarity—particularly in Glasgow—on the detail of how the zones will be implemented by Christmas of this year, as Graeme Dey, Donald Cameron and David Stewart all highlighted.

The committee also received evidence on the use of congestion charging and workplace car park charging as a way of improving air quality in city centres, but I am concerned that LEZs and charging will displace parking away from city centres, thereby turning suburban streets on the periphery of the zones into the new workplace car parks for city centre workers.

From a practical perspective, the deadline of 2032 is only 17 years away, yet no legislative or regulatory timeline has been proposed on how diesel cars and vans are to be phased out by then, nor has detail been provided on the national and local infrastructure that will be required for alternative vehicles to replace the 53 per cent of Scottish private car stock that is currently non-compliant with Euro 4 or Euro 6 standards. Alexander Burnett raised that issue.

Given that LEZs are to be introduced in four of our major cities by 2020, that more than 50 per cent of the cars that are currently in use in Scotland are non-compliant with EU emission standards and that bus passenger numbers are falling, the case for modal shift has been transformed from an ambition into a necessity, as Jamie Greene said.

However, although I understand and support the enthusiasm of Mark Ruskell and others for active travel as a solution to the problem, the evidence of enthusiasm on the part of the Scottish public for walking and cycling to make up 10 per cent of their journeys is not there. Indeed, between 2010 and 2016, the number of journeys by bicycle increased by only 0.2 per cent, and I cannot see any sign of a significant change in the mindset of the people of Scotland that is likely to result in the 10 per cent target being met by 2020, given that fewer than 2 per cent of everyday journeys are made by bike.

Even if the infrastructure could be put in place, it is important to understand that, essentially, Scotland endures a 200-day winter every year. Bearing in mind the winter that we have just come through and the fact that it has rained almost non-stop in the west of Scotland since July of last year, why would commuters, parents of children who need to get to and from school or pensioners who need to get to hospital willingly give up the comfort of their cars to make the journey by bike or on foot? Colin Smyth and James Kelly understood that.

Regrettably, climate change is making active travel even less likely. In my view, the only real opportunity for modal shift lies in moving people on to our bus networks. We should, of course, continue to develop cycling and walking routes within cities, but perhaps we need to have more realistic expectations of what can be achieved at a latitude of 55° north, here in the central belt of Scotland.

Of course our bus fleet will need to be invested in, either by modifying existing non-compliant engines or by adding significantly to the new bus fleet. That is where the Scottish Government should be concentrating its investment in order to deliver the maximum impact. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment that £7.8 million is to be given to that—David Stewart referred to that in his speech.

Solving the air pollution problem in Scotland will not happen as a result of any one measure alone, although increased bus usage is the major opportunity. Better air quality will be achieved by carrying out many of the tasks identified in CAFS and in our report, but we must be careful how we go about that. Future planning of transport needs must not drive those currently shopping in city and town centres into out-of-town retail parks or on to the internet, thus reducing still further town centre retailing opportunities. Future planning and legislation must work for the needs of families and parents with young children trying to juggle the priorities of a school run, shopping, carrying shopping bags and driving in rush-hour traffic. In short, future planning must not reduce our quality of life or damage the Scottish economy.

There is much to be considered by the Government, as shown by all the contributions made to the debate, which I welcome. Human health and wellbeing are at stake, as well as the environment and the economy of Scotland. The time for talking is over and there is now a need for action. We all look forward to progress being made, and we will support the Government in that regard.