Air pollution causes 29,000 early deaths a year according to Public Health England, MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee have reminded ministers.The reminder – one of many issued by the committee – is contained in a new air quality report issued today.
"Ministers must pluck up the political courage to take the potentially unpopular decisions necessary to get the most polluting vehicles off the road and encourage more people to walk, cycle or take public transport,” said the committee’s chair Joan Walley MP.
She added: "The Government seems unwilling to put saving lives before economic growth. It is unacceptable that another generation of young people growing up in our towns and cities could have their health seriously impaired by illegal air pollution before the Government brings this public health crisis under control. Children growing up near busy roads with high NO2 and particle emissions have stunted and impaired lung development. There is also emerging evidence that air pollution can increase infant mortality rates, prompt pre-term births and affect cognitive performance.”
The Government should issue new planning guidance to ensure local authorities prioritise air quality in planning decisions, said the EAC’s report which states that "the Committee is calling on Local Authorities to use the existing air quality provision in the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that new schools and workplaces have adequate public transport links and be easily reached by bicycle or foot from the surrounding community to reduce the need for car journeys."
The committee also calls for schools near major roads to be fitted with air filtration systems.
Philip Insall, director of health for Sustrans said:
“Fitting air filtration systems to classrooms is an expensive sticking plaster solution that doesn’t address the source of the problem; air pollution caused by motor traffic.
“As the committee says, walking and cycling is the ultimate low emission option for local transport.
“Improved air quality and road safety, and the potential to reduce obesity and tackle climate change are just a few of the benefits to be reaped from people having the freedom to leave the car at home.
“The priority must be for guaranteed, long-term investment, to help more people make every day journeys by walking and cycling, saving both money and lives.”
In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has called for a ban on diesel cars in the French capital by 2020. She also wants Paris to be much more pedestrian and cyclist friendly.
"In the four central districts, apart from bikes, buses and taxis, the only vehicles allowed will be residents’ cars, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles," she said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche.
The mayor also wants the number of cycle lanes to be "doubled by 2020" as part of a €100 million cycle development plan.
"Today, 60 per cent of Parisians don’t have their own car, whereas in 2011, it was 40 per cent. It’s moving quickly," said Ms. Hidalgo.