Activists stage air pollution protest during Edinburgh Fringe

Friends of the Earth unveils gas mask banner to mark 3.5km extension of city centre AQMA

Campaigners in gas masked staged a protest in Edinburgh this week (August 25) to highlight air pollution in the city centre’s Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), which was recently extended by 3.5km to the south and west of the city.

Edinburgh FoE protest (photo  (2)

Protestors highlight air pollution on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh (Photo: FoE / Maverick Photo Agency)

During the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Friends of the Earth protesters marked the new size of the AQMA with a photo stunt during the morning commute.

Aiming to draw attention to the need to tackle air quality problems, the campaigners unveiled a large yellow gas mask banner on the busy Nicolson Street, which is situated at the heart of the AQMA, close to the Royal Mile.

Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner, Emilia Hanna called for more action from both the city council and the Scottish Government to tackle the air pollution problem, stating that “toxic traffic fumes right here on Nicolson Street are harming the public’s health”.

She said: “Nicolson Street is heaving with festival goers as well as commuters at this time of year and it is a scandal that everyone is forced to breathe in illegal air pollution. Nicolson Street needs to be transformed from a toxic thoroughfare into a sustainable transport avenue. Priority should be given to walkers, cyclists and public transport users, and car use should be restricted. The bus lanes on Nicolson Street should be upgraded to be in operation all day rather than just at peak hours.”

According to Scottish Government estimates, air pollution causes around 200 premature deaths each year in Edinburgh, where there are a total of five AQMAs, the first of which was declared in 2000.

Ms Hanna added: “Road traffic is the main cause of air pollution, so the Council needs to work together with the Scottish Government to get more people walking and cycling and using public transport. It also needs to introduce a Low Emission Zone across the city, where vehicles entering the most polluted areas need to have meet clean emissions standards or pay a fine.”

The protest was organised to coincide with an Edinburgh city council meeting this week at which the formal process — started last August — to extend the city centre Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) was taken further forward.

Edinburgh FoE protest (photo MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY (1)

The protest was organised to mark the extension of the city centre AQMA (Photo: FoE / Maverick Photo Agency)


Edinburgh city council agreed on Tuesday to take forward plans announced last year that will see the existing city centre AQMA extended from the junction at South Bridge/Royal Mile along the Nicolson Street corridor south all the way to Newington, to the junction of Minto Street/Duncan Street.

It means the new boundaries will encompass the likes of Edinburgh University’s Law School, Festival Theatre, Surgeon’s Hall, and the Queen’s Theatre.

The council intends to maintain this AQMA boundary agreed last August, but will review this again when air monitoring data for 2015 is available.

Transport and environment convener, councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “We recognise that improving air quality in Edinburgh can be a challenge and we are making every effort to address this. We monitor air quality continuously across the city and extending the Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) enables us to direct actions more effectively at those locations.

“We are already working closely with bus and road freight operators to reduce vehicle emissions on some of our busiest traffic routes and recent monitoring suggests that air quality is improving in many places, including the South Bridge and Nicolson Street corridor.”


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