Public Health England: Cities should be ‘redesigned’ in fight against air pollution

Public Health England (PHE) has urged the UK Government to introduce more ambitious policies aimed at reducing air pollution and minimising its health impacts in cities, including a "redesign" of key urban areas and a ban on drivers idling outside school gates.

Public Health England: Cities should be ‘redesigned’ in fight against air pollution

The document calls on the Government to help local authorities as they strive to invest in low-carbon public transport

The calls to action form part of the body’s new review of existing and upcoming policy interventions concerning air pollution, which claims that long-term exposure to particulate pollution is a key factor in between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Published today (11 March), the review sets out a series of policy recommendations which could limit the amount of air pollution caused by three key factors – transport and heating fuels, agriculture and heavy industry – and outlines how spatial planning and human behaviour could be altered to help mitigate the impact of existing pollution.

Specifically, the 263-page document calls on the Government to help local authorities as they strive to invest in low-carbon public transport, better infrastructure for walkers and cyclists and low-emission and clean air zones.

It also recommends that central Government and local councils alike set more ambitious targets for the installation of charging points for electric vehicles (EVs) and to offer greater support to both businesses and members of the public wishing to make the shift away from petrol and diesel vehicles.

As for city planning and behaviour change, the review states that cities should be “redesigned” so that people are either discouraged or prevented from venturing close to highly polluted roads. Such a process could involve widening streets or using vegetation to act as a “pollutant screen”.

The introduction of car-free, low-emission zones outside of schools and hospitals is also encouraged by the review, which suggests penalties for breaches in order to make the idling of engines in these areas either illegal or socially unacceptable.

Speaking to The Times about the review, PHE’s medical director Paul Cosford described air pollution as “the biggest environmental threat” to public health in the UK.

The review is the latest call to action after the Government’s latest clean air plan in 2017 was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors. The Air Quality Plan includes a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 and a £255m fund to help councils crack down on emissions but has faced criticism from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees.

Clean Air Hospitals

The publication of PHE’s review comes shortly after Global Action Plan launched its landmark Clean Air Hospital Framework – a strategy aimed at helping hospitals work with central governments, local authorities, businesses and other stakeholders to improve air quality on a local level.

Developed as part of a partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, the framework provides practical advice to hospitals seeking to minimise their own air pollution footprint, safeguard their patients and staff from other sources of air pollution and forge partnerships against the issue with other local organisations.

The seven-pronged strategy highlights the importance of low-carbon deliveries, onsite renewable generation and good infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists as key ways in which hospitals can minimise their negative impacts on air quality. It additionally urges hospitals to use their outreach facilities and community leadership positions to encourage other organisations to take more ambitious and collective action against air pollution.

Once the framework has been fully applied to GOSH, Global Action Plan is hoping to scale the initiative up to cover all NHS facilities in the UK. The tool has been made open-source in order to accelerate its uptake among public and private healthcare facilities alike.

“Air pollution is a health issue which requires a health sector response,” Global Action Plan’s senior partner Chris Large said.

“GOSH has led the way on this by working with Global Action Plan to create the very first Clean Air Hospital Framework – now we’re calling for all hospitals across the UK to take up the mantle and become clean air champions for their local communities.”

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie