HM Insights

Can ambitious Net Zero plans make Glasgow miles better by 2030?

'Glasgow's Miles Better' was a 1980s campaign to promote the city of Glasgow as a tourist destination and as a location for industry and business. Back then fossil fuels were powering the country and releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere every year.

'People Make Glasgow" is the now the brand for Scotland's largest city and what is affecting the people in Glasgow and all over the world is a climate crisis.

In response to the global climate emergency, the Scottish Government brought forward primary legislation to amend Scotland’s emissions reduction targets to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

Glasgow declared a climate emergency in 2019 and the Council's climate emergency working group made over 60 recommendations as to how Glasgow - which is due to host the global climate change summit COP26 in November 2021 - could reduce carbon emissions and realise its ambition of becoming a net zero city by 2030. This article looks at some of the key recommendations.

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Avenues Project

The Council has set aside £115 million into its 'Avenues' programme, which aims to make the city more attractive, people-friendly and better for local business. The funding has come from the £1 billion Glasgow City Region City Deal comprising grant funding from the UK and Scottish Governments.

The Avenues programme is set to transform 17 key streets and adjacent areas over the coming years in the biggest scheme of its kind in the UK. The project will deliver an integrated network of continuous pedestrian and cycle routes across the city centre. Space will be increased on the pavements and free Wi-Fi, intelligent street lighting, trees and cycle lanes will be installed over the next eight years.

A consultation that the Council carried out (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) found that city centre residents wanted more green areas, less traffic, and a permanent public space.

A pilot project was commissioned on Sauchiehall Street (between Charing Cross and Rose Street). Construction Work started in 2018 and has taken two years to complete and cost £7.2m. Key features include enhanced and widened pavements, (two-way) cycle paths, junction upgrades, 27 new trees, new bus shelters, cycle stands, and seating.

The pandemic has highlighted the value of quality green public space and the health benefits of walking and cycling in the fresh air and the Avenues Project aims to encourage more active travel choices in the city centre.

Low Emissions Zone

As air quality becomes an increasingly political issue, measures are being put in place to discourage more polluting vehicles from entering areas where air quality is poor. Low Emission Zones (LEZ) have been identified by the UK government (as part of its air quality plan) as a way that local authorities can reduce harmful emissions in specific areas.

The most polluted street in Scotland for the last four years has been Hope Street in Glasgow city centre, which in 2019 had over 55.63 microgrammes per cubic metre of roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations (a pollutant from diesel vehicles, especially older diesel vehicles), which is well above the legal limit of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre set by the European Ambient Air Quality Directive. In 2020 Hope Street was below the legal limit at 36 microgrammes per cubic metre, but that was largely driven by the first lockdown in March, which like many cities across the UK, removed a large number of vehicles from the city centre.

Scotland's first (and currently only) LEZ came into effect in Glasgow city centre at the end of 2018 and applies only to local bus services under Phase 1. The Council want to introduce a second phase in early 2023 which will apply to all vehicles except motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles. The proposed emission standards are:

  • Euro 4 standard for petrol vehicles (generally vehicles registered from 2006 onwards)
  • Euro 6 standard for diesel vehicles (generally vehicles registered from 2015 onwards)
  • Euro VI standard for heavy duty diesel vehicles such as buses / coaches and HGVs (generally vehicles registered from 2015 onwards)

It will not come as a surprise to see that only fairly new diesel vehicles will be able to meet the proposed emission standards and LEZ's are based on a penalty notice approach to effectively ban non-compliant vehicles, so it does not forbid higher-emission vehicles from entering, but you will receive a penalty notice if your vehicle does not comply.

It is hoped that this will significantly reduce the number of older diesel vehicles entering the city centre and encourage drivers switch to either lower emitting vehicles that can comply with the LEZ emission standard or to use more public transport and active travel when entering the city centre.

Buildings and heating

Tackling how buildings and homes are insulated and heated and how they manage overall energy use is going to be a critical part of delivering progress towards net zero. Glasgow (like every major city) will need to see a mass switch away from high emissions heating (such as gas and oil) in homes and buildings. Only a very small percentage of homes and buildings within the Glasgow use low carbon sources for heating and the Council knows that this will have to radically change if net zero is to be met by 2030 and that this is an area which will require continuous government support.

The Scottish Government have acknowledged that this is an area which will require a significant amount of investment and are developing a Heat in Buildings Strategy which will include a comprehensive set of policy actions out to 2025 to scale up the deployment of low carbon and zero emissions heating. The Scottish Government will focus on:

  • new buildings and all new homes consented from 2024 to use zero emissions heating;
  • introducing regulations for all buildings to achieve a good level of energy efficiency;
  • introducing a minimum energy efficiency standard for the domestic private rented sector; and
  • establishing a new net zero carbon standard for new public buildings

The Scottish Government is also going to invest £1.6 billion in heat and energy efficiency over the next Parliament which will begin in May this year. The commitments include:

  • £25 million to support zero carbon infrastructure and heat networks for residential and commercial premises in the Clyde Mission region, which covers the River Clyde through Glasgow city and beyond.
  • There will also be a focus on the growth of heat networks in general and a key enabler of that is the passing of the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill and the planning system. Once the bill is passed, the Scottish Government will work with local authorities and developers to implement the provisions of the bill, which will see the creation of zones suitable for heat networks, alongside support for local authorities and private investors to bring projects forward.
  • £4.5 million has already been set aside for the first six months of the next Parliament in a cashback scheme for households, providing 75% cashback for zero emissions heating and 40% for domestic energy efficiency measures, with a total of £13,500 available per home.

Glasgow City Council

The Council itself is responsible for about 5% of the total carbon emissions of city and there are some potential actions which the Council is considering to accelerate it’s own emission reductions, which include:

  • replacement of building lights with energy efficient LEDs – this investment would have a financial payback in six years;
  • retrofit of building management systems across Council premises. This would help the Council achieve savings on energy usage and give a financial payback of under four years; and
  • replacement of Council vehicles by electric ones and also the exploration of different fuel sources, especially for larger vehicles. The Council has over 1300 vehicles and overall transport costs are in the region of £56 million, with direct costs for leasing, servicing and maintaining the fleet amounting to £24 million per annum. The Council's fuel bill alone amounts to over £5 million per annum. Although a move towards electric vehicles requires a large initial investment, it does provide a rapid payback period because of the lower costs of electricity compared to diesel or petrol and lower maintenance costs.

Glasgow Metro

Glasgow has a good transport network overall by UK standards, but the big omission is a modern rapid transit system that serves inner urban areas, hospitals and also Glasgow Airport.

The Glasgow Metro project was first proposed by Council back in May 2019 and would see Glasgow Airport connected to the rail network by 2025, with plans for more connections in the future. Transport Scotland has included the metro project in its Strategic Transport Projects Review which would see the link from the Airport to Paisley Gilmour Street Station built in the first phase and then extended to the city centre via the new National Manufacturing Institute, Renfrew town centre, Braehead and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, before crossing the River Clyde.

Initiative with ScottishPower

The Council has also entered into an initiative with ScottishPower to help Glasgow become the first net zero city in the UK by 2030, which pledges:

  • an electric vehicle charging network with deployment of rapid workplace and public charging locations in a city where 70% of residents live in flats with no personal off-street parking;
  • billions of pounds of investment by ScottishPower over the next few years on renewable energy capacity in new onshore and offshore windfarms together with battery storage which is essential if net zero targets are going to be met;
  • investment by ScottishPower in a stronger electricity grid infrastructure to support the delivery of highly efficient and affordable electricity to support the changes in how buildings are going to be heated and the electrification of cars.

Comment – an opportunity to be streets ahead

There is a lot to do in the next nine years in order for Glasgow to meet is carbon neutrality targets by 2030. The policies summarised in this article are ambitious and each one of them needs to be implemented effectively to achieve Glasgow's goals. If the programme can be delivered within the planned timeframe though, Glasgow will be streets ahead of other UK cities on achieving carbon neutrality. Then it may be time to revive that famous slogan - "Glasgow's Miles Better" - once again.

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