Public Health England (PHE) has called for a raft of measures, including stopping cars idling near school gates, promoting car pool lanes, and providing priority parking for electric cars, in a new report that also calls for congestion charges to be imposed in cities across the UK.
The report said air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure.
Evidence links air pollution to the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer. It makes conditions such as asthma worse.
PHE also urges a “step change” in the uptake of low-emission vehicles by setting more ambitious targets for electric car charging points, plus cleaner public transport and more foot and cycle paths to improve health.
Speaking about a proposal to ban cars from the school run, Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director of PHE, said: “I do think that if we consider this to be an issue of future generations, for our children, let’s have a generation of children brought up free from the scourge and the harms of air pollution.
“And that does then take you to ‘What can we do about making sure schools are at least as clean as possible?’
“We should stop idling outside schools, we should make sure that children can walk or cycle to school, and we should make sure that schools work with their parents about how they can do their best for this.”
Calling for a culture change, he added: “If we were having a conversation about 30,000 people dying each year because of a polluted water supply, I think we would have a very different conversation. It would be about ‘What do we need to do now and how quickly can we do it?’.”
Last summer, Yorkshire’s political leaders joined widespread calls for Government action on “toxic air”.
York, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull were in May named among the UK’s 30 cities which breach World Health Organisation limits for air pollution, highlighting the scale of the problem gripping the region.
Leeds City Council has already unveiled plans to create a Clean Air Zone, including a proposal to charge high polluting vehicles up to £50 a day for entering certain parts of the city centre from 2020.
In November, Sheffield City Council unveiled a similar proposal to charge up to £50 a day on buses, vans, taxis, coaches and lorries in the city centre in a bid “to protect local people and save lives”.
The chief executive of the British Lung Foundation (BLF), Dr Penny Woods, welcomed the suggestion to ban idling cars outside school gates.
She added: “We also support the call for congestion charges to be rolled out across the UK.
“At present, only a few cities have implemented or are considering local congestion charging.
“Yet, we know that this is one of the most effective methods in reducing transport pollution.”
Edmund King, president of the AA, said the school run was an “easy target” and the highest polluting older “lorries, busses or badly serviced cars” should be targeted first.
He added: “Some of the proposals in this report, though well-meaning, are somewhat simplistic, such as the promotion of car pool lanes, which really don’t work in the UK.”