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Should Perth push for its own Low Emission Zone?

Perth has not followed Dundee's lead in introducing a LEZ, but should it create one in the future?

David Gill standing outside Perth City Kilts
David Gill has run his business, Perth City Kilts, for 15 years. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Perth City Centre is a bustling mixture of pedestrians, traffic and a thriving shopping scene on most days of the week.

The opening of the Perth Museum in March may bring more visitors to the Fair City, but it also means emissions could be an issue.

This could raise questions again about whether it should implement a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) to counteract these.

Around 23 miles east of Perth, Dundee’s LEZ was recently praised by Friends of the Earth Tayside.

Members of the charity have been encouraged by the impact it is having on lowering emissions in the city.

This follows a University of Dundee study, which finds children could be disproportionately affected by air pollution produced by vehicles.

In 2022 Friends of the Earth Scotland named Perth’s Atholl Street as the most polluted street for particulate matter in Scotland.

It was also the third most polluted for nitrogen dioxide.

Could a Perth LEZ help prevent a “silent killer”?

David Gill has been the owner of Perth City Kilts on the city’s Old High Street for 15 years.

He recognises that LEZ’s can be a contentious issue, but is in favour of improving air quality.

“Emissions are a silent killer and I’m all for anything that will make the atmosphere clearer and purer”, he says.

“There’s been a wee bit of kick-up about it in Glasgow and London, but they get used to it and so forth.

“It’s a hard one to comment on because so many people have got older cars in Perth.

“I know my car qualifies, but you wonder what you would think if your car didn’t qualify and the public transport was not as good as it should be.”

David Gill standing outside Perth City Kilts
David Gill has run his business, Perth City Kilts, for 15 years. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

When it comes to reducing emissions, Mr Gill admits he is no expert, but is “pretty sure” that a LEZ would help.

However, he also questions whether Perth’s City Centre is large enough to host one.

He added: “It’s not a complete cure or panacea, that’s for sure. But I would be for anything that takes a step forward towards a cleaner environment.”

“It would be hard to ascertain the impact on footfall. Normally, with the kilt if people need it or want it they get it. So, they would get public transport or they would park just outside any zone.

“If we’re going to get a clean environment we have to change our attitudes and sometimes that might seem a wee bit of a struggle.

“But that’s one of the things we’ve got to put up with for a transition to a better environment.”

However, Perth and Kinross Council tests on pollution levels in Perth and Crieff convinced the local authority a LEZ would not be needed.

They found pollution levels in some areas are falling.

And in February 2023 it was confirmed there were no plans to introduce a LEZ in the city.

The zones have been introduced in Scotland’s four largest cities.

This leaves decisions to introduce LEZ’s in smaller cities and towns, such as Perth and Stirling, to be taken on a voluntary basis.

Are Perth businesses concerned about a potential LEZ?

Despite their environmental benefits, concerns about the impact of LEZ’s on accessibility and footfall in city centres makes them a contentious subject.

This has been especially true when it comes to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

Some residents and business owners living within the capital’s new ULEZ limits have been concerned by it’s increase in size to now include 99% of Greater London.

Iain Fenwick would want any LEZ in Perth to ensure local businesses were not facing compromises.

He is the director of Perthshire Local, an app and website that promotes local commerce and Perthshire’s economy.

As the director of Perthshire Local, Iain Fenwick has his ear to ground when it comes to businesses interests. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

Mr Fenwick is not against LEZs per se, but does not believe it is high up on Perth businesses’ priorities.

“Any removal of vehicles would require the mechanisms to be in place to replace them”, he argues.

“And to make sure there was sufficient transport infrastructure bringing people into the City Centre.

“What we can’t do is compromise the economic sustainability of Perthshire because of the environmental sustainability. Both need to co-exist and they shouldn’t be played off against the other.

“LEZs would obviously bring a threat to the City Centre and that’s undeniable. How we can sustain a better balance is what we should be considering first.

“Right now the LEZ is really far down on the list of conversations in the City Centre because it’s all geared around the (Perth) museum.

“That’s the conversation that is being held now, but there is investment going into Perth City Centre at the moment.

“We need to make sure that the decisions are favourable towards the majority of the business owners.

“What traders are most concerned about right now is that nobody is listening to their concerns and their ideas.”

“Unfortunate” that there will be no LEZ in Perth

It is hoped that the Cross Tay Link Road (CTLR) will remove some traffic from Perth City Centre, creating a new six kilometre stretch of new carriageway to the north of the city.

When it opens in 2025, it will link the A9 and the A93 to Blairgowrie and the A94, just north of Scone, helping traffic to bypass the City Centre.

Friends of the Earth Tayside co-ordinator, Andrew Llanwarne believes that Dundee’s LEZ is already helping to clean up the city’s air, even before it is legally enforced from May 31.

COP26 Coalition Tayside organiser Andy Llanwarne.
COP26 Coalition Tayside organiser Andy Llanwarne.

“I would say the LEZ is already helping the situation because it has forced an improvement in the quality of the bus fleet and that’s having an impact”, he explains.

“It’s unfortunate that Perth didn’t want to go along with having a LEZ. It’s a Scottish Government requirement that the four largest cities in Scotland implement LEZ’s.

“Smaller cities like Inverness, Stirling and Perth do have problems with traffic, but unlike Perth, that central part of Dundee does still have quite poor quality air.

Atholl Street (in Perth) is dreadful because there is a whole series of traffic lights on and it carries a lot of traffic through the city.”

However, Mr Llanwarne does believe the CTLR will help remove emissions from the Fair City.

“The new bridge just north of Perth is going to improve it because it will remove a lot of the traffic that comes over the Smeaton’s Bridge in Perth.

“Traffic then goes out of town again along Crieff Road or it’s going up to Inveralmond and onto the A9.”

He added: “The centre of Perth does give us cause for concern about the levels of traffic congestion and air pollution.

“We’re not in favour of building more roads to deal with these problems, as this can stimulate further increases in road traffic.

“However, we are aware that this new road is due to open in just over a year’s time,

“It should have a significant impact in reducing the traffic volumes currently going through the centre of Perth.”