Report: Britons willing to pay £1bn to tackle air pollution

Coinciding with the UK's first ever National Clean Air Day (15 June), new research has shown that the general public want to ringfence £1bn a year to tackle air pollution.

High levels of concern mean that the British public want to act now to tackle the issue, according to research commissioned by Global Action Plan. A survey of 2000 adults shows that more than two-thirds would be willing to tackle the problem by paying an average of £2.59 each month, the equivalent to raising £1bn a year.

“That the public is willing to fund a billion pounds of air pollution measures shows how strongly people want air pollution to be tackled,” said Global Action Plan partner Chris Large. “People being prepared to personally put their hands in their pockets, shows how important they believe it is that this dreadful health issue is tackled quickly.”

Health crisis

The National Clean Air Day will see local schools, hospitals and communities across UK cities run events and inspire other local residents to act for their own health and the health of local children.

Eight in 10 are concerned about how air pollution will impact on their health, according to Global Action Plan’s survey, while 64% and 57% think that the Government and vehicle manufacturers should take action respectively.

The study shows that alarming misconceptions are leading Brits to unnecessarily expose their families to higher levels of air pollution. A King’s College London experiment found that drivers can be exposed to nine time more pollution compared to a cyclist on a same route. Despite this worrying statistic, a staggering 96% of parents surveyed were unaware that pollution exposure was worse when driving compared to cycling or driving.

The research shows that, while heart conditions can cause the majority of premature deaths from outdoor pollution, three-quarters of adults did not realise the extent of the impact that air pollution can have on the heart.

The issue has created a bigger health crisis, as people avoid physical activity due to their concerns about high levels of air pollution, Global Action Plan said. The survey found that 21% of respondents living in urban areas have avoided exercise, only adding to the vast obesity-related disease burden faced by the NHS.

Chicken and egg

The air quality crisis is estimated to cause around 40,000 UK premature deaths each year. The Government recently published its overdue air quality plan, which ordered local authorities to implement Clean Air Zones across the country.

A switch from more-polluting diesel cars to low-carbon vehicles will accelerate the transition to cleaner towns and cities. But the current “postcode lottery” of charging infrastructure has deterred customers from purchasing electric vehicles (EVs).  

Charging infrastructure provider InstaVolt is using National Clean Air Day to highlight the importance of an inclusive strategy for motorists rather than focussing on home charging points. The company said that building a network of rapid chargers at the roadside is the key to boosting use of EVs in the UK.

“Around 30% of UK households don’t have off-street parking so that means that more than eight million potential buyers are unlikely to buy an EV unless it’s easier to charge in public places,” said InstaVolt chief executive Tim Payne.

“We’re caught in a chicken and egg situation where people simply won’t buy an EV until the infrastructure is there. At the same time, companies are hesitant to install charging units until they know there’s a buoyant market to use them.

“People don’t fill up their cars with petrol or diesel each night – they stop in to fill up as and when they need to. We need to make it just as easy to do so with EVs.”

Paynes’ views were echoed by Ford’s director of urban electrified van programmes Mark Harvey, who said: “At Ford, we support the Government’s plans to increase funding and support for the faster development of next-generation transport solutions for cleaner air in our cities. This means investing in a range of technologies, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and the infrastructure of charging stations required to support their growth.”

George Ogleby

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