A homelessness charity had already received an exemption to Glasgow’s new low emission zone (LEZ) by the time Douglas Ross claimed its work had been “condemned” by it, it has emerged.
The Scottish Conservative leader raised the plight of Homeless Project Scotland – a group which says it serves food to around 300 people per night in the city centre – at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.
The refrigerated van used by the charity does not meet the mandated environmental requirements to operate in the LEZ – which spans the entirety of the city centre and came into force on Thursday – forcing it to fundraise more than £16,000 for a new vehicle.
Following a terse exchange between Ross and First Minister Humza Yousaf at Holyrood, the charity said on Twitter it was provided with an LEZ exemption at 9pm on Wednesday – just hours before the scheme came into force.
The two-month stay will allow the charity to use its current vehicle while work is carried out on its new, LEZ-compliant van.
The charity tweeted: “We were forced to buy a van at £15,000 before we could receive an exemption at 9pm last night @Douglas4Moray was right we were being forced to put our fridge van off the road.
“Until we pleaded with @GlasgowCC to allow us x2 months to finish the prep on our new van.”
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “Yesterday, we granted Homeless Project Scotland a time-limited exemption for one of their vehicles following receipt of a recent application which met the relevant criteria.”
Mr Ross had pressed Mr Yousaf on why an exemption was not granted for the charity by the 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”.