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Let's clear the air, planners

Vehicle pollution

Air pollution in Scotland costs billions in healthcare. It's time to toughen up planning policy and get serious about air quality, says Friends of the Earth Scotland's Emilia Hanna

Emilia HannaScotland, like the rest of the UK, is in breach of European air pollution limits that were due to be met back in 2010. Air pollution is estimated to cost Scotland more than £1.6 billion in NHS spend and lost days at work.

North of the border it contributes to more than 2,000 premature deaths a year, making it responsible for more fatalities than alcohol and drug abuse combined.

Edinburgh has five designated “air quality management areas”, aka air pollution zones. St John’s Road is the capital’s worst area with sky-high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide – the number of permissible hourly NO2 spikes for 2015 was already exceeded by February 2.

St John’s Road is an arterial route west of the city, flanked by elegant town houses that sit three metres from the road’s edge. When the houses were built in the 1930s, St John’s Road was connected to the city centre by tram and rail, so traffic pollution was not something that town planners worried about.

The tram network has closed, traffic congestion has thickened, and pollution levels have soared.

"Mistakes of the past can be forgiven... but today's planners cannot ignore the evidence"

Mistakes of the past can be forgiven because town planners could not have foreseen the motoring industry boom and its resulting health impacts. But planners today cannot ignore the evidence and have a responsibility to manage development in a way that improves and does not worsen air quality.

Given the problems on St John’s Road it is hard to see how two new proposals could possibly remedy the situation. One is a supermarket with a 140-space parking lot, smack in the middle of the pollution zone and 150 metres from a primary school.he other, a 670-unit housing development in the green belt west of the pollution zone, has been called in by the Scottish housing secretary.

Both developments are likely to increase traffic flows on the already over-congested St John’s Road.

Scottish Planning Policy says planning decisions must “consider the implications of development for air quality”. This is too weak and is unlikely to lead to proposals being refused on air quality grounds.

The Scottish Government’s recently launched Low Emission Strategy aims to integrate our planning, transport, and air quality policies. But the draft strategy skirts the issues, talking about the need to “consider” and “take account” of air quality.

If Scotland is to avoid fines for breaking EU law, and protect the health of its citizens, planning policy needs to include a far more specific requirement to reject new developments that add pollution to existing air quality management areas.

Emilia Hanna is an air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland


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