Air pollution: Two-thirds of teachers would support banning cars near schools, survey finds

Children are most exposed to dangerous fumes on school run and in playground, according to Unicef UK report 

Emma Snaith
Monday 25 March 2019 07:11
Over 40 per cent of the teachers polled said idling engines near schools were a concern
Over 40 per cent of the teachers polled said idling engines near schools were a concern

Nearly two-thirds of teachers would support banning cars from the roads outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times, a survey has found.

The poll of 840 people in teaching roles across the UK also found more than half wanted the government to take urgent action to improve air quality outside schools.

It comes after a Unicef UK report published last year found children were most exposed to dangerous air pollution on the school run and while in the playground.

The charity estimated that one in three children, some 4.5 million, are growing up in towns and cities in the UK with unsafe levels of particulate pollution.

Sixty-three per cent of teachers would back car-free roads outside school gates at the start and end of the day, the survey for walking and cycling charity Sustrans found.

Over 40 per cent said idling car engines were a concern when it came to rising levels of air pollution near schools, while 63 per cent said their school’s location on or near a busy road was a worry.

But nearly 60 per cent said a lack of alternative routes for traffic was one of the main barriers to closing roads outside schools to cars at drop-off and pick-up times.

When asked what other measures would help reduce the levels of air pollution outside schools, 34 per cent said encouraging more people to walk, ride a scooter or cycle would help reduce toxic fumes. And 28 per cent said educating the school community would help.

The survey comes after a report from Public Health England (PHE) called for a raft of measures, including stopping cars idling near school gates, promoting car-pool lanes, and providing priority parking for electric cars.

It is also calling for congestion charges to be imposed in cities across the UK.

Published earlier this month, the report said air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure.

Sophie Gallois, Unicef UK’s director of advocacy and communications, said: “Every day, one in three children in the UK is breathing in harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health and impact their future.

“Worryingly, children are most exposed to toxic air on the school run and while at school, so a ban on motor vehicles outside the schools gates has potential to make a real difference.

“Reducing children’s exposure to air pollution is not just about the school street itself, but also taking quieter routes to school, away from busy main roads.

“The government must take urgent action to tackle this growing health crisis by putting children’s health at the heart of its work on air pollution.”

Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice said: “We need to radically change the way we travel.

“Idling car engines and snarled up roads poison the air and our children’s bodies across the UK.

“For too long now, dangerous levels of air pollution near schools have been ignored. Finally this is starting to change.

“Our survey makes it clear that teachers want urgent action to clean up toxic fumes.

“They see closing the roads outside their school as an effective solution but need support.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to driving down emissions across all modes of transport, and recognise that greener travel options are a crucial way to clean up our air.

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“Just last week we announced a £23m investment to rejuvenate cycling and walking across the UK, on top of the £2bn we are investing over the course of this parliament.”

Leaders of cities across the UK are also calling on the government to provide £1.5bn of funding to remove polluting vehicles from the streets.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is proposing the fund alongside UK 100, a network of local government leaders, in a bid to move the country towards 100 per cent clean energy by 2050.

Additional reporting by PA

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