Those with health conditions will be put at risk as a result of plans for a low emission zone in Aberdeen being abandoned, campaigners have warned.
Transport Scotland announced the project, which would also see zones introduced in Dundee and Edinburgh, would be paused as a result of Covid-19.
Plans had been in place for the zone to be rolled out by the end of this year – but the programme has been hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
And Friends of the Earth Scotland warned the delay could put people with heart and lung conditions at risk of contracting the virus.
The charity’s air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “Of course Aberdeen Council has had to quickly change priorities and many projects have been rightly delayed until we are through this crisis. However, the Low Emission Zone plans were already well underway, and Covid-19 has only highlighted our urgent need to reduce pollution.
“There’s a strong evidence base on the links between air pollution and vulnerability to Covid-19. Pollution from traffic causes and exacerbates many of the heart and lung conditions that put people at heightened risk from the virus. The longstanding need to take action on air pollution to improve public health has only been heightened by this crisis. Equally, the current shutdown has exposed the need to reform our transport system and highlighted the fact that so much public space in Aberdeen is dominated by polluting cars.
“The Scottish Government acknowledges that the huge increase in cycling, alongside the temporary road reallocation measures gives us an opportunity to reimagine our cities for the better. Restricting the most polluting vehicles from built-up areas, with Low Emission Zones, has to be central to this plan.
“The short term drops in pollution we’ve seen during shutdown will not be sustained unless Councils and Government take meaningful action to change our transport system, restricting the most polluting vehicles while prioritising walking and cycling.”
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Aberdeen City Council’s transport spokeswoman Sandra Macdonald insisted the local authority remains committed to introducing the measures.
She said: “While it’s disappointing the introduction of LEZs has been delayed, it gives us a chance to consider how coronavirus will impact on city centre travel and how we can take positive measures into consideration.”
Scottish Government transport chief Michael Matheson said: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to tackling air pollution in the quickest time possible. The unprecedented impact of the Covid–19 outbreak has resulted in necessary changes to priorities across government and across our local authority partners.
“Similar to other initiatives across public sector, we have come to the view that introducing low emission zones across our four biggest cities by the end of 2020 is no longer practicable.
“We remain dedicated to introducing Low Emission Zones across Scotland’s four biggest cities to improve air quality and protect public health. Local authorities share this ambition and Scotland’s first LEZ in Glasgow has been in place since 2018.
“LEZ planning within local authorities will continue, the development of regulations is ongoing and funding to support businesses and individuals prepare for LEZs remains unchanged.
“Given the recent uptake in active travel and air quality levels we are going to take the opportunity to review how Low Emission Zones can be designed and how our cities might witness a green recovery transformation in tandem with the Covid-19 recovery plans.
“We must be bold in our actions to reset the system to meet our climate change ambitions, reduce inequalities, improve our health and wellbeing and deliver sustainable economic growth.”
Rachel Martin from Aberdeen Cycle Forum said she was “pretty disappointed” with the hold up after councillors had voted to back a major road infrastructure scheme.
She said: “It is pretty disappointing given they voted on the compulsory purchase order for South College Street.
“They haven’t delayed that and it will see more pollution in Aberdeen because they are increasing road capacity which will bring more traffic.
“It is interesting that project has been prioritised while the low emissions zone has been delayed.
“They need to push ahead with the plans for the low emissions zone rather than delay it. This is the sort of thing the council should be prioritising.”
Liberal Democrat group leader councillor Ian Yuill said his colleagues back the scheme and wants it to move forward.
He said: “We believe it is important the low emissions zone in Aberdeen city centre does go ahead.
“The council are in the early stages of progressing that and it is important businesses and residents feed into that.
“We will be listening very carefully to what they say but the bottom line is we must reduce air pollution in the city centre.
“A low emissions zone is an important part of that.”