Lesley Hinds: ‘As a council, we’re working extremely hard to improve Edinburgh’s air quality’

Transport and Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, writes for today's Friends of the Scotsman on air quality in Edinburgh.

To paraphrase the Hollies’ 1974 hit song, “All we need is the air that we breathe...”

OK, so we need a bit more than just air to survive – but nonetheless, boosting air quality can, and should, be a top priority.

From London to Paris, Barcelona to Montreal, city after international city is being forced to introduce some pretty drastic measures to reduce the harm to their populations from poor air quality.

Whether it’s caused by vehicle traffic, industrial processes or central heating systems, poor air quality damages our health and the environment, harming plants and animals and affecting biodiversity.

All urban centres face massive challenges in terms of air pollution and unfortunately Scotland’s ­capital is no different.

While data gathered across the city in 2015 shows an overall improving trend in Edinburgh – and early figures from 2016 suggest this trend is continuing – there is absolutely no room for complacency.

It’s something all of us can and must tackle together, whether that’s walking your child to school or ­taking public transport to the shops instead of the car.

As a council, we’re working extremely hard to improve ­Edinburgh’s air quality.

We’re committed to making active travel and public transport as attractive as possible, helping people stay healthy and save money while reducing air pollution and congestion. A thriving and fully integrated public transport system is absolutely essential in a modern capital city and particularly for Edinburgh, where the latest census figures showed more people walk, cycle and take public transport to work than anywhere else in ­Scotland.

Edinburgh bucks the national trend in achieving growth in walking, cycling and public transport use between the censuses of 2001 to 2011.

Retaining Lothian Buses in public hands has all-party support on the council and it means councillors can ensure good quality, accessible, reliable and affordable public transport remains at the heart of Edinburgh’s transport network.

We’re also blazing a trail with our annually-increasing investment in cycling infrastructure (9 per cent of the transport budget in 2016/17, or around £1.4 million).

Car ownership is falling, while cycle use is now estimated at over 7.3 per cent of journeys to work, up more than 50 cent from 2011. Our goal is for 10 cent of all journeys in our city, and 15 per cent of commuting trips, to be made by two wheels by 2020. Our successful School Streets pilot in nine city primary schools – now set to be rolled out further – saw fewer children driven to school and more of them cycling, boosting their health and wellbeing and cutting emissions for local residents.

And with our ongoing 20mph roll-out set to continue later this month (28 February), when slower speeds come into force for residential and shopping streets in North and South-Central/East Edinburgh, conditions will be even more attractive for those who want to swap their cars for a less polluting, more active mode of transport.

We are committed to re-designing our streets to favour walking, cycling and public transport as we carry out necessary road renewals.

Another part of the jigsaw slotted into place when a final route was agreed for the city centre West to East Link, one of Scotland’s most ambitious cycle ‘superhighway’ projects, which will create more than two miles of protected two-way cycle track into and right through the city centre to Leith Walk.

Improving traffic flow by monitoring and adjusting signalling is another key part of our Air Quality Action Plan and we’re delighted to be working with our partners to deliver both the Sustainable Edinburgh 2020 Action Plan and Edinburgh Adapts 2016-2020, our Climate Change Action Plan.

There’s a lot of great work going on to boost Edinburgh’s air quality, both by the council, our partners and city residents through their transport choices.

Air pollution affects everyone and we’ve all got our part to play in tackling it.

Even small changes to your routine can make a real difference for everyone – improving life expectancy, cutting congestion and generally making the city a far more pleasant environment to spend time in.

How will you contribute?

This piece was originally published by The Scotsman - read online.


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