Cllr Ralph Bagge is the Leader of South Bucks District Council.
Last week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published its public health guidance on outdoor air quality with a number of recommendations that are relevant to local authorities. I was the vice chairman of the NICE committee that considered the evidence and developed the guidance, so I would like share a number of points that took me by surprise during the process.
First, the starting premise was that air quality was only an issue in city centres with congestion. As we considered the evidence, it became clear that poor air quality can result anywhere along a road where the height of walls, fences or buildings is high in relation to the width of the road, especially where traffic is stationary or moving slowly. The classic location cited is Marylebone Road, however, Iver High Street, in my district, with buildings close to the road with congestion and high volumes of HGVs, also exceeds safe NOx levels. Rather surprisingly, for a small authority in a semi-rural setting, South Bucks is working towards declaring a Clean Air Zone around the Ivers. There is merit in all local authorities, not just the metropolitan unitaries, reconsidering where they monitor air quality.
Secondly, the evidence shows that children are particularly at risk from traffic-related pollution, which impairs lung development and leads to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The results of trials implementing ‘no idle zones’ around schools that the committee considered lent weight to the recommendation of ‘no idle zones’ outside schools, hospitals and old peoples’ residential accommodation. It’s also worth reflecting that local authorities which commission schools transport, often on competitive tender, could be harming the young people in their care because the cheapest contractors will often use the oldest and most polluting vehicles, which then idle whilst parked outside schools twice every day.
On 15 June, Clean Air day, officers from Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils gave out information to parents and carers dropping off and picking up outside two of the most congested primary school locations in our area, advising adults of the harm arising from leaving their engines running while stationary. The reaction of many was total surprise that it could be so harmful.
The NICE committee agreed that the public sector should lead by example in reducing emissions through procurement policies favouring ultra-low emissions vehicles. In Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury Vale District Council has been innovative in implementing a policy whereby all staff business travel is done using pool cars. And the pool cars are Nissan Leafs, charged daily using several rapid charge pumps installed in the council’s car park. Not only does this make a positive contribution to reducing emissions locally but it is delivering a cost saving too.