No plans for a car ban to tackle Yorkshire's toxic school air

Two out of five schools are in locations that breach World Health Organisation guidelines for toxic air
Two out of five schools are in locations that breach World Health Organisation guidelines for toxic air
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Not a single Yorkshire council has any plans to ban cars around schools, despite calls from Health Secretary Matt Hancock to protect children from poisonous exhaust fumes.

Almost 300 “school streets” - where cars are banned during drop off and pick up - are expected to be in place nationally by 2022, but none of these are going to be in Yorkshire.

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This is despite official figures earlier this year showing more than two in five schools had pollution levels above World Health Organization guidelines.

Measures to tackle the issue have public support as nearly half of parents support plans to ban cars from driving directly outside schools during school hours, while only a quarter oppose, according to a survey from Global Action Plan via Opinium.

Dom Jacques, a parent in Leeds and member of Moortown Living Streets Group set up a temporary car-free zone outside his child’s school.

Mr Jacques said: “Moortown is very dominated by cars - as a parent this frustrates me a lot. If we seriously want to tackle big problems like air pollution, rising obesity and mental health issues, we need to build healthy environments where our young people can thrive and not be forced to inhale unnecessary levels of pollution or be subservient to rat-runners and pavement parkers.”

“We successfully trialled a car-free zone outside the school, reducing traffic and encouraging more families to walk to school. We would like to see this arrangement formalised and implemented for the long-term.”

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While no Yorkshire councils had current plans to establish school streets, some said they had not ruled the initiative out, while others pointed to other schemes they had put in place or were trialling. Leeds City Council highlighted its “safer routes to schools” initiative, while Bradford Council said it was “committed to promoting no-idling zones outside all schools in the district”. Bradford Council discussed School Streets on 16 July and said it would create an action plan for a "joined up approach" with its other projects keeping "local communities at its heart".

Nearly half of all primary school children are driven to school, a figure which has increased by about 10 per cent in the last decade, and a quarter of traffic at rush hour is estimated to be linked to the school run, according to analysis of government figures by Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity.

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on clean air, said: “One of the biggest barriers to more children walking and cycling to school ironically is fear of traffic.

“By having a calm, quiet environment around school it will send an important message to encourage parents not to drive during the school run. But Government needs to support councils by giving them the powers and resources to enforce school streets, as well as investing in public transport and measures to encourage walking and cycling.”

Jenni Wiggle, senior director of everyday walking charity Living Streets, said: “The majority of parents we work with say they’re put off walking their child to school because of chaos around the school gates. When you remove cars, you remove the issues of unsafe parking, traffic danger and dirty air - helping encourage more families to choose healthier and cleaner ways to travel.

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“Government, local authorities and schools need to work together to support families to swap the school run for a school walk. 20mph limits, behaviour change schemes and School Streets can all help families to choose to walk.”

Rachel White, head of public affairs at Sustrans, added: “Earlier this year Sustrans organised 40 school streets across the UK, working with local authorities, schools and parents. The UK Government now needs to show leadership by making it easier for local authorities outside London to enforce school streets during drop off and pick up times and to prioritise walking and cycling paths.”

According to Sustrans, children in the UK now lag far behind their peers in other nations for active travel. Only around 2 to 3 per cent of UK children cycle to school compared to 49 per cent of all Dutch primary school children.