Ghent will not expand LEZ but launches ‘air quality fund’
There will be no geographical expansion of the low-emission zone (LEZ) in Ghent after all. The bench of Alderman will take that decision on Thursday. Groen, the largest party in Ghent, has long been asking for the current LEZ in the inner city to be extended to the wider area. But a study has shown that the same environmental benefits cannot be achieved there.
In 2020, Ghent introduced a LEZ to keep the most polluting cars out of the city center. The intention to expand this zone during this legislature was linked to a study by the Leuven consultancy organization Transport & Mobility. This study shows that the current LEZ zone works very well and, in particular, reduces emissions of carcinogenic soot and harmful nitrogen oxide.
But a geographical extension would not yield the same results. One of the reasons is that more and more people are choosing fewer polluting cars, and technological progress also reduces emissions from conventional engines.
The biggest gain that an expansion would bring is in NOx emissions. But that effect is limited to a gain of three years. The study also shows that an expansion would only make sense if the small ring road were included, which would make it a complex operation.
Package of ambitious measures
A new approach must reinforce the results of the current LEZ, which will also be tightened in 2025. And the LEZ zone must radiate more to its surroundings. “We want the current LEZ to have more effect. So we are not going to expand it geographically. Still, we are going to expand it with a whole package of ambitious measures,” Alderwoman of the Environment, Tine Heyse (Groen), tells the Belga news agency. Still, she refutes the claim that her party is making a U-turn on this issue.
“Air quality and health are too important to make U-turns, compromises, or deals around,” she says. At the same time, the LEZ has already led to open conflicts between the socialists and the greens, who were cartel partners in the municipal elections of 2018.
Air quality fund
Instead of an extension of the LEZ, the alderwoman announces an ‘air quality fund’ with 4,5 million euros, partly through revenues from the current LEZ, in additional measures for 2022-2024.
For example, anyone with a low income in the territory will be able to apply for a scrapping premium of up to 1 500 euros if they give up a polluting vehicle. This concession can help people with limited financial resources to switch to an environmentally friendly alternative to the car.
There will also be a similar scrapping premium for motorbikes. Non-electric scooters will have to stay out of the car-free zone from January 2023. Only scooters that are registered in the car-free zone will still receive a permit.
Five densely built-up areas around the current LEZ will become ‘oxygen districts’ again, with additional investments to reduce the number of polluting vehicles and to facilitate partial solutions (every inhabitant within 400 meters will have a ‘share hub’ for shared e-cars and bicycles).
These oxygen districts will also have better connections to public transport and extra charging stations. In addition, the second residents’ card will be phased out, and a transport poverty specialist will be appointed.
There will also be additional subsidies for sustainable mobility solutions and incentives for car sharing. The city also wants to free up an extra budget to make its own vehicles fleet greener. About 20% of the vehicles are still not LEZ-compliant.