Damian Carrington Environment editor
Friday 30 June 2017 06.30 BST
Parents who leave their car engines running at the school gate should be fined in order to help tackle the air pollution crisis, according to England’s official health watchdogs.
New guidance from Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) sets out a wide range of measures to cut air pollution, which is at illegal levels in almost 90% of urban areas.
The health experts say children and older people are most at risk from toxic air and so “no idling” zones should be used outside schools, care homes and hospitals. Westminster city council has already introduced £80 fines for drivers caught with idling engines. Other PHE and Nice recommendations include planting more pollution-absorbing trees and hedges, training motorists to drive smoothly and to keep their tyres pumped up, and supporting cycling and electric vehicles.
The health watchdogs also back “clean air zones” that charge or restrict polluting vehicles from entering town centres. The government’s own evidence shows this is the fastest way to cut pollution, but ministers have shied away from implementing zones, fearing a backlash from motorists.
Air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, making it the biggest environmental killer. It also results in health costs of between £8.5bn and £18.6bn a year, according to PHE and Nice. The government’s plans to solve the pollution problem have twice been declared illegally poor and its latest plan in May was dismissed as “weak” and “woefully indequate”. Ministers are now being sued for a third time.
“Air pollution is a major risk to our health, and so far suggested measures have not managed to tackle the problem sufficiently,” said Prof Paul Lincoln, chair of the Nice guideline committee. “This guidance is based upon the best evidence available. It outlines a range of practical steps that local authorities can take, such as the implementation of no-idling zones, to reduce emissions and protect the public.”