Dark cloud hangs over Edinburgh tram project


By Kevin Duguid

The trams have been a thorn in the side for many in the capital

EDINBURGH’S tram project could increase air pollution by encouraging lorries and trucks onto the roads of the capital, a senior official has claimed.

Robbie Beattie, Edinburgh City Council’s scientific and environmental services manager, said the expected reduction in general traffic could make the city more attractive to hauliers.

The comments are likely to be seized upon by residents in some areas of the city, who have argued the trams will worsen air pollution by moving traffic away from main routes and onto residential streets.

Mr Beattie said the council was working with hauliers in a bid to reduce emissions to try and avoid massive EU fines, which are expected to be levied at local authorities across the UK in the coming years.

But he has ruled out the prospect of low emission zones, like those introduced in London earlier this year, claiming the council was more interested in

“carrot than stick.”

He said the trams would have a positive impact on air pollution in some areas of the city, including air quality management areas, such as St John’s Road, where emission levels are known to be high.

But he said other parts of the capital could see an increase in heavy goods vehicles.

He said:

“Ten percent of the traffic – haulage vehicles – is responsible for 50% of the pollution in the air. The trams might make a bit more room for them.

‘Not all the traffic using the city is for the city. We need to try and encourage them to use the bypass rather than going through the town.’

An appraisal carried out in 2006 as part of the final business case for the tram project had shown the trams would lead to poorer are quality for 82,970 people.

However the tram firm said the same study found 83,748 residents would have better air quality and a further 217,968 would see no change, despite predicted growth in overall traffic.

Mr Beattie said discussions were under way with hauliers in an attempt to reduce the level of pollution associated with goods and vehicles in the city.

He added:

“We’re contacting people like the Road Haulage Association (RHA) about various different types of vehicles and whether they can use greener vehicles.

‘We’re trying to be proactive. In the background there’s the threat (of fines) but national government is dealing with that.

‘The low emission zones are something we can look at if the current scheme doesn’t work, but the first thing is to go into dialogue with people.’

Phil Flanders, a spokesman for the RHA, said he was looking forward to talks with the council, but disputed figures accounting for half of all emissions. He said:

“How many lorries do you see on Princess Street every day and how many buses do you see? I would like to see more of these figures because it’s easy just to blame trucks.’