As part of Walk to School Week (May 21-25), Living Streets has delivered a report to the Transport Minister, Jesse Norman asking for urgent action to be taken to improve the walk to school.
The Living Streets report, ‘Swap the school run for a school walk’ sets out 21 recommendations to enable more children to walk to and from school and includes a call for cars to be banned from the school gates at drop off and pick up times.
More than 2,000 primary schools in the UK are situated in pollution hotspots, putting pupils’ health at risk, and new research by Living Streets shows that 42 per cent of parents are concerned about levels of air pollution around their child’s school.
Dirty air can cause debilitating diseases and hasten death, currently contributing to 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.
Air pollution is harmful to everyone but for children, the risk to their health is even higher as their exposure is much greater and they absorb and retain pollutants in the body for longer. Motor vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution and one in four cars on the road at peak times are on the school run.
The charity for everyday walking says that cutting unnecessary car journeys and enabling more families to walk to school must be part of the solution.
Jenni Wiggle, Director of Local Impact, Living Streets says: “More children walking to school means fewer vehicles on the road and improved air quality for everyone.
“We want more children to enjoy the benefits of walking to school and so are calling on the government, local authorities and schools to work together to support families to choose to walk.
“We would like to see more local authorities working with schools to ban people from driving up to the school gate - adding to air pollution, congestion and road danger during drop off and pick up.
“Walking to school not only improves our air quality but is a great way for children to build more exercise into their daily lives, helping them to arrive to school healthier, happier and ready to learn.”
Living Streets’ research shows that over half of parents are concerned about the health issues air pollution causes their children (56%) and more than a third (36%) would take pollution levels into account when choosing a school for their child.
A further third (30%) had been put off walking their children to school because of the poor air quality with over a fifth of parents (21%) hold the misconception that children are protected from air pollution inside the car.
The National Audit Office’s most recent report found that 37 of 43 air quality zones in Britain do not meet EU regulations. Living Streets’ report to the Transport Minister says local authorities should prioritise cutting air pollution; alleviating congestion; and providing a safer walking environment by introducing measures such as school street closures, Park & Stride sites and reduced traffic speeds around schools.
Andrea Lee, Senior Campaigner at environmental law organisation ClientEarth, says: “Children are particularly vulnerable to the illegal and harmful levels of air pollution that can be found across the country. Parents are right to be concerned as this toxic air can not only trigger asthma attacks but can also stunt children’s lung growth affecting their health as they grow up.
“This is a problem that can be fixed. We need urgent action by the UK Government and local authorities to take the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted parts of our towns and cities. But they also need to help people move over to cleaner forms of transport, like public transport and walking, to give them real alternatives.”
The number of children walking to school is in long-term decline.
Last year, the government set out for the first time a target to get more primary school children walking to school.