An environmental initiative which bars older and more polluting vehicles from the centre of the Glasgow is “condemning” a homelessness charity, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said.
The low emission zone (LEZ) came into force in Glasgow on Thursday for cars, vans and lorries, having already been rolled out for buses, barring all vehicles which do not meet prescribed environmental standards.
Mr Ross used First Minister’s Questions to raise the case of Homeless Project Scotland, a charity operating in the city which feeds around 300 people per day.
The refrigerated van used by the charity does not meet the standards of the LEZ, risking a fine every time it ventures into the city centre, so it has been forced to raise more than £16,000 for a vehicle that is compliant, according to its Twitter page.
Mr Ross initially pressed First Minister Humza Yousaf on why an exemption was not granted for the charity by Glasgow City Council – which is in charge of the LEZ.
Mr Yousaf said: “I do commend the work that’s done by the Homeless Project in Glasgow. We do have to ask ourselves why are they having to feed so many people in any given week?
“That’s undoubtedly the case because of over a decade of Tory austerity, because of a cost-of-living crisis, because of high inflation, because of high energy costs – that’s of course why they’re having to do the work that they’re having to do.”
Mr Yousaf went on to urge the council to engage with charities about the LEZ – although he conceded he believes it is already doing so.
He added: “Clearly it’s imperative on all of us, whether it’s the public who are in Glasgow, whether it’s charities, whether it’s the third sector and all of us, to make sure we’re doing everything possible in our gift to tackle the serious problems around air pollution.”
Responding to the First Minister’s praise of the charity, Mr Ross said: “The First Minister wants to commend Homeless Project Scotland but refuses to stand up and say their one van that helps to feed 300 people every day should get an exemption.
“That is not commending a charity, that is condemning them and their inability now to do the work they want to do.”
The delivery of the Glasgow LEZ scheme – the first of its kind in the country – has been “tone deaf”, Mr Ross added.
But the First Minister stressed the importance of it, for both the environment and the health of the people of Glasgow, saying: “If we had delayed, more people would have suffered in terms of their asthma, more people would have suffered because of their lung conditions, more people would have suffered because of COPD.
“More of the citizens of Glasgow would have suffered dire health consequences because we know air pollution in Glasgow is nowhere near the standards that we want it to be and the LEZ will help with that.”
Mr Yousaf also said it is important for his Government to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”.