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No car idling zones around schools - Labour knocks back Liberal Democrats proposal for urgent action to protect children's health

February 16, 2020 1:03 PM

Parklands schoolsSpeaking to a meeting of Newcastle City Council, Liberal Democrats councillors have highlighted the hazards of pollution to schoolchildren from cars whose engines are left idling. But the Labour Party has declined to act, trying to push the immediate issue into some future grand startegy

In March 2019, Public Health England published a document entitled a 'Review of interventions to improve outdoor air quality and public health'
This review gives evidence-based advice to both local and national government on actions that can be taken to improve outdoor air quality and health. And action needs to be taken by us all as air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, as it's estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year can be attributed to long-term exposure to pollutants. There is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, strokes, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and exacerbates asthma.

Parklands Councillors Pauline Allen (on the left in the picture) said "I'm sure that none of us wants to see harm caused to our children, grandchildren or other family members by poor air quality but to create clean air we need to take action and the steps outlined in this motion are part of the change that is needed. Young children are particularly at risk from poor air quality as their lungs are still developing. So, we need to work with schools, parents and carers to get the message across that engine idling outside of schools is causing problems for all but especially for children.
"We have many schools in Parklands Ward, and most are accessed from Broadway East and this means that there can be many cars parked in a small part of our ward. And if engines are being idled this means a lot of air pollution for the children, and the adults, in that area. The Public Health England document mentions a study that was undertaken in the United States which demonstrated that following an anti-idling campaign at schools there the number of pollutants in the atmosphere outside of the schools were reduced.
"We're not trying to prevent children being taken to school by car, though we are keen to promote more walking and cycling to school as it has benefits for all especially for youngsters, but we're asking for drivers to not idle their engines if they do have to drive to school.
"Other things we need to look at are the design of streets and how we access shops and other buildings. For example, the Regent Centre area of Gosforth can be difficult for all at busy times as shoppers and other drivers attempt to access and exit ASDA and Hollywood Avenue. Cars can be moving slowly or be stationary for some time as they wait for the lights to change leading to poor air quality for everyone.
"We're also keen for more trees to be planted, and that means appropriate trees in the right places, and we want to encourage the planting of native species of plants and shrubs in the city to help fight pollution and to encourage wildlife.
"All over the world young people are demanding to know what we are doing to protect their future and we need to be showing them that we are taking action here in Newcastle."

In the same debate, Dene and South Gosforth Councillrs Dr Wendy Taylor also said :

Our motion offered an easy option for behaviour change as part of the Council's overall Climate Change campaign, which Labour Councillors failed to support.

In June 2017 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England called on local authorities to introduce bylaws to enforce 'no vehicle idling' in areas where people particularly vulnerable to air pollution congregate. This was reinforced in March 2019 by the Public Health England (PHE) review which Cllr Allen referered to.

Their recommendations again included implementing no-idling zones in areas with 'vulnerable hotspots' such as schools, hospitals and care homes. The main reasons for this proposal are that

  • Excessive idling is a waste of fuel and money, resulting in unnecessary negative environmental impact
  • People inside cars are exposed to high levels of air pollution, with children especially at risk of harmful effects
  • An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than one travelling 32 mph
  • For each 1 litre of fuel used by a diesel engine, 2.64 kg of CO2 is released to the atmosphere

PHE estimates that long-term exposure to particulate air pollution has 'an effect equivalent to' around 25,000 deaths a year in England.

Road traffic is estimated to contribute more than 64% of air pollution recorded in towns and cities. This comes from exhausts and other sources such as the wear of tyres. nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are both produced by petrol and diesel vehicles, and have detrimental effects on the heart and lungs when inhaled. They can cause a range of illnesses, from skin rashes and itchy eyes, through to asthma, and to more serious cardio-respiratory illnesses and cancer.

  • Children under 14 and adults over 65 are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, as are people with respiratory conditions, like asthma, or heart problems.
  • The reasons that children are at increased risk are that they tend to be more active and therefore breathe more deeply
  • They spend more time outdoors, so they are much more exposed to the effects of air pollution
  • And children have smaller lungs and higher breathing rates which means that they will have more toxic air in their lungs, per unit area of their lungs and also their lungs are still developing. Children are also shorter and therefore closer to the tailpipes, so are likely to be breathing in more pollution. The UK has one of the highest records of asthma symptoms in children worldwide

But high levels of pollution not only cause asthma in children, it can also stunt their lung growth, which can have an impact on their health for the rest of their life. Even though children only spend 40% of their day at school, research has shown that as much as 60% of a child's exposure to pollution can be from the school run and while at school. Cleaning up the air around schools is therefore a top priority, and putting a stop to idling is a great way to start.

A number of Councils and areas have already taken up the challenge to stop idling outside schools.

Primary school children in Greater Manchester have told BBC's 5LIve that they are on a mission to tackle air pollution and safety outside their school gates.

The pupils are patrolling streets and handing out fake parking tickets to parents who leave their engines running or park on yellow lines.

They started the campaign after their head teacher noticed an increase in the number of children with asthma, which he thinks could be due to the level of polluted air in the area.

Vehicle Idling Action has been running since 2016 and is a London-wide behaviour change campaign which is helping to reduce localised air pollution caused by motorists leaving their engines running when parked.

The project involves 32 local authorities. TTeams of volunteers, local authority officers and project staff work to educate both motorists and pedestrians.

York's 'Kick the Habit' campaign helps reduce air pollution by:

  • encouraging drivers to switch off their engines when parked up and waiting (idling)
  • reducing the numbers of idling vehicles in York
  • drawing attention to the health risks of continued idling
  • making people think about the importance of clean air and the impact that air pollution has on our health; the Kick the Habit campaign aims to start a conversation about air quality in York to prompt a change in the behaviour of drivers in our city.
  • Southampton has run events in the city centre, outside schools, with bus drivers, and at the port and ferry terminal. They also ran social media, billboard and local press campaigns, trained Air Quality Champions, ran social media, billboard and local press campaigns and asked people to pledge to not idle in the future
  • They found that 89.8% of drivers switched off their engines when asked.

These examples show that action on idling could begin almost immediately, without having to wait for bye-laws, signs or infrastructure and could perhaps run during the Summer term this year.

We asked Council to take forward this campaign by reviewing the work done by other Councils, working with schools, parents, carers, local community groups and volunteers and with the local media to take this forward and by encourage sponsorship from local businesses for green walls and tree planting near schools. The main aim of a No Idling Campaign is to change behaviour. Parents care deeply about their children's' health, but may not currently be aware of the damage their vehicles can cause. An anti idling campaign would be an important step in urgently reducing pollution around schools.