I MIGHT be accused of scaremongering for what I’m about to write, or of trying to undermine a policy that has worthy aims. Staunch defenders of that policy might be so unhappy that they declare I have a malign agenda, even if I say that on balance I still support it.

But if the last few weeks – indeed, years – have shown us anything, is that it’s better for politicians to be upfront about the intended and unintended consequences of any policy they wish to pursue. Instead of dismissing concerns about risks as invalid – and casting aspersions about those who raise them – they should acknowledge the risks and explain how any potential harms will be mitigated against.

The potential for “gotcha” media moments is significantly reduced when those promoting policies truly “get” them, and can explain how benefits and risks were balanced.

Signs have sprung up around Glasgow about the city’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which in theory has affected car access since May 2022. We are currently in a “grace period” that will end on June 1 (except for those resident within the zone, who have an extra year to comply). One might ask why it took until last December for signage about the LEZ to appear if we’re meant to have been pondering ditching our old bangers since last summer, but I digress.

Seeing the signs and considering what they will mean for me from June onwards had me reflecting on my own driving habits. This is as it should be – any such scheme prompts individuals to consider their own vehicle use, and indeed whether they can even justify owning a car. I seldom drive into town, but the last time I did so was at 2am, in December, after a friend messaged that she was struggling to get a taxi.

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The LEZ will operate 24 hours a day, using number plate recognition technology to detect which vehicles should and shouldn’t be within its boundary. There are some exemptions, such as for blue badge holders and emergency vehicles, but the basic rule is that if your car does not meet the emission standards (Euro 4 for petrol vehicles or Euro 6 for diesel vehicles), it’s banned. The first penalty is £60 (halved if paid within a fortnight) but with each subsequent breach of the rules, the penalty doubles.

I’m not in the habit of undertaking late-night rescue missions, but if I had children in their teens or early twenties it might be a different story. When I was a teen I regarded a phone call to summon my dad to town after 3am as an emergency cord that should be pulled only in exceptional circumstances, such as injury, extreme weather or ill-timed vomiting just as you reached the front of the taxi queue.

We did, after all, like to regard ourselves as independent. Of course some parents were less obliging than others, but the safety-net option of being picked up and taken home underpinned our new-found freedoms.

That safety net will, of course, remain in Glasgow for those families with both compliant parents and compliant cars, but the LEZ will potentially impact those who have the former but not the latter.

Being a curious person, I was interested to know how much weight had been given to safety considerations when Glasgow’s LEZ was being planned. The word “safety” features only once in the Integrated Impact Assessment published in June 2021, in reference to the impact on public safety – such as a potential drop in traffic accidents and a potential rise in disease transmission on public transport. There are two references to “personal security”, couched in terms of “perception” or “concerns”.

The assessment of impacts on the objective “reduce crime and fear of crime including hate crime” highlights the potential for people who use private cars for work or leisure in the city centre to be negatively impacted “if they perceive there to be personal security concerns with public transport”, with the result that they “may forego their journey in the city centre, particularly at night-time”.

A similar statement is made in the assessment of the impact on gay, lesbian or bisexual people, whom it states “are potentially more likely to use their own cars to go to the city centre due to concerns over their personal security using public transport.”

The suggestion here is that those who perceive themselves to be at risk on public transport (or indeed walking the streets of Glasgow city centre at night) will simply opt not to travel there to begin with. The report does not list as a negative impact any actual harm that may potentially result from someone coming into the city then becoming stranded.

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To be clear, I don’t suggest the policy should have been binned over these concerns. I do believe the overall health benefits to all of those living, working and playing in the city centre are outweighed by a wide variety of negative impacts identified – even before considering the broader aim of climate-change prevention.

Neither am I suggesting that homophobic abuse is rife on public transport in Glasgow or that teenagers who have missed the last bus will inevitably come to grief. But these are potential risks, not merely potentially perceived ones. Risks can be acknowledged, weighed up and mitigated against. Pretending they don’t exist may help to promote a policy, but it’s dishonest.