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LGA says long-term funding and local budget flexibility are needed to reduce high street pollution, but states that councils are “leading the way”
Thursday, 11 January 2024, Steve Smethurst
Air pollution on British high streets has been found to exceed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended annual level.
Sustainable energy provider, Gridserve conducted spot checks on the main high streets of the 25 largest towns and cities in Britain over a two-week period last year. It found that three quarters (76%) exceeded the PM2.5 guideline of five micrograms per cubic metre.
The findings are ‘shocking’ according to Sam Clarke, Gridserve’s Chief Vehicle Officer. He said: “If we’re to reach the WHO’s annual target, we need to change our behaviours. With vehicle emissions being a key contributor, anything we can do to travel more greenly, from walking more to cycling, and including electric vehicles, is a very valuable step forward to improve the air we breathe daily.”
Tim Dexter, Clean Air Lead at Asthma + Lung UK said the research was further evidence that the UK’s biggest cities outside London are ‘toxic hotspots’, exposing millions to the dangers of air pollution.
He said: “These findings back our recent analysis, which found that 99% of schools in England are in areas where PM2.5 is above WHO levels.
“PM2.5 is widely seen as one of the most harmful air pollutants to public health and contributes up to 43,000 premature deaths per year. Every day, children are breathing toxic air that could have life-long consequences for their health, leading to stunted lung growth and worsening asthma.”
Dexter demanded “bold action” from politicians. He said: “We are calling for a targeted support package to help the poorest people, who are the most exposed to air pollution – and those with long-term health conditions – to access affordable, cleaner travel options.”
A Defra spokesperson said the government had delivered significant improvements in air quality since 2010, with PM2.5 emissions down by 10%.
The spokesperson said: “We are taking the action set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 to tackle emissions from wood burning, agriculture, transport and industry, as well as funding local projects through the Air Quality Grant – building on the £10.7 million provided in 2023. Our targets set a clear trajectory for society and businesses that will significantly reduce the impact of PM2.5 on health.”
Defra also noted that the Gridserve data – averaged over a two-week period – was inappropriate for comparison with an annual guideline, given the range of factors affecting short-term concentrations including weather and localised emissions.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), said councils are leading the way in helping more people get to their local high street more easily and improving air quality in the process. This includes supporting new EV charging points, introducing electric buses and consulting on improved walking and cycling routes. Councils have also introduced clean air zones and other similar measures.
Cllr Rodwell said: “Long-term funding and local flexibility in how this is used would give councils much greater power to improve high streets and boost their air quality, effectively and efficiently.
“Encouraging people to spend their time and money in their local high street should not come at the cost of breathing dirty air.”
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