Deploying more low-emission or clean air zones could help improve air quality and health as part of a package of measures to cut down on pollution.
That’s the finding of a review of evidence by Public Health England (PHE) as it warns that air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK.
According to the UK’s public health agency, 28,000 to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution; it added that there is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease.
In its review, which informs local and national government on actions that can be taken, PHE sets out that discouraging highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas – for example, with low emission or clean air zones – could help cut emissions and incentivise ULEV take-up.
It also found that local congestion charging was thought to have the highest potential to improve local air quality and health over traffic management options.
However, the report adds that that any pricing mechanism scheme, whether it is a national tax duty or local road toll, should be designed with care as the unintended social inequality impacts of increased cost of transport affects the most deprived in society.
The report also calls for local authorities to take more action to encourage uptake of low-emission vehicles by setting more ambitious targets for electric car charging points and incentivising ULEVs.
It also recommends cities be redesigned to ensure residents aren’t so close to highly polluting roads and to boost investment in clean public transport, as well as foot and cycle paths to improve health.
Other measures mooted include fleet recognition schemes that promote low emission vehicles and enforcement of anti-idling schemes in areas with vulnerable hotspots such as schools, hospitals and care homes.
Commenting on the latter, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Unnecessary idling contributes to poor local air quality so it is right that we look at changing behaviours. Encouraging well-intentioned parents to switch off their engines outside schools shouldn’t be met with much resistance. However, it isn’t just near schools where we should be cutting down on unnecessary idling – taxi ranks and bus stations in busy areas should also be targeted.”