Transport planners in the UK have not been placing adequate focus on improving air pollution.
This is according to new research from the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol, which found the majority of improvements are focused on reducing the number of road accidents, despite the fact deaths linked to pollution are rising.
It is currently estimated that around 50,000 deaths in the UK can be attributed to air pollution annually.
Dr Tim Chatterton, clean energy and transport researcher at UWE Bristol, said these figures show that pollution-linked deaths have reached ‘epidemic’ levels and this problem leads to significantly more deaths and illnesses than road transport collisions. The researchers found that the number of deaths linked to air pollution is anywhere between 15 and 30 times higher than those caused by traffic accidents.
Professor Graham Parkhurst, a researcher in sustainable mobility at UWE Bristol, stated: “Currently air pollution is a shared priority between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport, but shared priority does not mean equal priority.”
“Air pollution is perhaps the grossest manifestation of a general failure of UK transport planning to take the environmental impacts of transport choices sufficiently into account,” he added.
Dr Chatterton called on politicians and local authorities to ensure that transport planners treat air pollution with the level of importance it deserves. He claimed the current “nudge” approach that has been used by the authorities has proved ineffective and needs to be replaced by stronger direct action.
Prof Parkhurst suggested that a local authority grant funding line would be the best way to reduce air pollution caused by traffic and improve public health as a result.
The researchers called for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to reassess the relationship between environmental management and transport management at both national and local levels.