A new car free zone in Glasgow city centre has been announced by council leader Susan Aitken as part of a long-term strategy to 'give public spaces back to the people'.

The area will be created over the next five years and will stretch from George Square to Hope Street across Argyle Street and up to Cathedral Street.

The council leader said £30bn will be spent over the next ten years to help achieve an ambitious target of 'net zero living' by 2030.

She said the council had already taken some "tough decisions" around pollution and congestion including Scotland's first low emissions zone (LEZ) and wanted to take this a step further.

She said: "Over the coming days we are going to announce that we have designated a core of our historic city centre from George Square, over to Hope Street where Central Station is, from Cathedral Street to the north to Argyle Street to the south and work towards that being a space entirely free of private cars over the next five years - obviously with caveats for disabled access.

"This core of Glasgow city centre will be given over entirely to public transport and to people moving actively," said Ms Aitken.

"It's a big step and we don't under-estimate the challenge of making that transition from what has been for far too long a private car dominated city centre.

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"It is something that will have to be delivered in partnership with city centre businesses, which is why we will do it incrementally over the next five years or so.

"But I think it's the kind of ambition that we have to demonstrate. We have to move beyond doing this partially and do it on a bigger sale.

"We need new ideas, a new vision and collaborations to create that better and sustainable life that we envision for everyone in Glasgow."

European cities with large, car-free areas in their centres include Brussels, Copenhagen and Munich.

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In Oslo, most on-street parking has been replaced with street furniture like benches and mini parks, as well as bike lanes and bigger pavements. Though some businesses feared a loss of trade, the city centre is said to have reported a 10 per cent rise in footfall after the reduction measures.

In Northern Spain, the city of Pontevedra banned cars from its 300,000 square metre medieval centre in the early 2000s, leading to a 70 per cent drop in CO2 emissions.

Ms Aitken made the announcement during an event today which aims to promote the leading role cities must play in the climate emergency.

She said Glasgow was already taking forward major initiatives including the roll-out of the Avenues Programme, which is re-designing city centre streets to promote active travel and has transformed the lower part of Sauchiehall Street.

"We've already taken some tough decisions around pollution and congestion including Scotland's first low emissions zone which will remove all but the greenest vehicles by 2023," she said.

"Our Spaces for People project was a major response to Covid as the city re-opened after lockdown to re-prioritise public space and give it to people rather than cars."

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Phase 1 of Glasgow's low emissions zone applies to local service buses only, however all vehicles entering the city centre zone will be required to meet the required emission standards to avoid a penalty unless the vehicle is exempt when Phase 2 is enforced from June 1 2023.

Hisashi Kuboyama, Federation of Small Businesses development manager for Glasgow, said it was important that the council "genuinely" engages with city centre firms as the plans are progressed.

He said some businesses might have concerns about staff travel or deliveries.

He said: “Glasgow city centre has taken a huge economic shock in the last couple of years.

"And even before the covid crisis began, many of the main streets in Scotland’s biggest city had seen better days, thanks to several large fires and changes in shopping habits.

“That’s why it is so important that the council works in partnership with local businesses as it develops transport plans for the future.

"Some city firms might welcome moves to reduce car traffic if it encourages more locals into the centre or comes with a dramatic improvement to public transport.

"Other businesses might have worries about deliveries or staff travel patterns.

"No matter, civic decision-makers have a duty to listen to local firms, take on board fresh ideas or alternative suggestions. Everyone wants Glasgow city centre to remain a great place to do business, but to do that the council will need to genuinely engage with local firms.”

It comes after an investigation by The Ferret found almost a third of Scotland’s streets have higher levels of toxic particle air pollution than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The “appalling findings” show the levels of air pollution caused by small particles – known as particulate matter 10 (PM10) and largely due to traffic pollution – increased in 31 per cent of average readings taken this year, when compared with data from 2019.

The readings looked at levels of two of the most common pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and PM10 – which can both have serious health implications, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.

Provisional air quality data from 2021 suggests that Edinburgh’s Salamander Street is breaching legal PM10 limits so far this year to an even greater extent than was the case in 2019.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide – which comes mostly from exhaust fumes – fell in many of Scotland’s most polluted streets when compared with data from 2019. Councils said this showed air quality management plans were working.  

Glasgow’s Hope Street was the only one still breaching legal limits in the 2021 data under this measure.

Prior to 2020 it had broken legal air pollution limits for nine consecutive years. However, the six monthly average in 2021 was lower than in any year apart from 2020 for a decade.