Public health experts are calling for cars to be banned from around schools and for more cities across the UK to impose congestion charges.
As Public Health England (PHE) published a series of recommendations* on how the government can improve air quality, its medical director Professor Paul Cosford, told the Times it should be socially unacceptable to leave a car running near school gates.
PHE describes air pollution as the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK and says there is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and exacerbates asthma.
In its review, it recommends:
- Redesigning cities so people aren't so close to highly polluting roads by, for example, designing wider streets or using hedges to screen against pollutants
- Investing more in clean public transport as well as foot and cycle paths
- Encouraging uptake of low emission vehicles by setting more ambitious targets for installing electric car charging points
- Discouraging highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas with incentives such as low emission or clean air zones.
Professor Cosford said: "Transport and urban planners will need to work together with others involved in air pollution to ensure that new initiatives have a positive impact.
"Decision makers should carefully design policies to make sure that the poorest in society are protected against the financial implications of new schemes."
PHE said that national government policy could support these local actions - for example, they could allow controls on industrial emissions in populated areas to take account of health impacts.
Meanwhile health minister Nicola Blackwood has announced up to £56 million funding for research into the biggest challenges facing public health.
Climate change leads to more extremes of hot and cold weather, which can have a serious impact on the health of the nation. Pollution can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy.
Universities in England are invited to apply to be selected to partner with PHE to form the next wave of Health Protection Research Units funded by the National Institute for Health Research.
An open competition will be held to select the most promising research proposals from academics. They will be funded from April 2020 to March 2025.
*Review of interventions to improve outdoor air quality and public health. Public Health England, March 2019.