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More cycling and walking; less driving, needed for our health and economy, says new FPH report

A new report published today by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) calls for a major shift away from cars in favour of walking, cycling and public transport (known as active travel).

The report, Local action to mitigate the health impacts of cars, is published on the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. The Act was passed in response to London's Great Smog of 1952, and introduced a number of measures to reduce air pollution, including 'smoke control areas' in some towns and cities in which only smokeless fuels could be burned.

The report provides practical advice, based on best practice, to help local authorities design towns and cities that encourage active travel. It is endorsed by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Chartered Institute for Waste Management (CIWM) and Partnership for Active Travel, Transport and Health (PATTH).

Commenting on the report, Professor John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “Although we no longer have the ‘pea soupers’ that killed 12,000 people in the 1950s, 40,000 deaths each year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. It is also evident that it is disproportionately the poorest of our communities which are most exposed and vulnerable to air pollution.

“Local authorities are responsible for improving the health of their communities. One way they do so is to ensure that town and city centres are designed to reduce the health harms of cars to their residents.

“Measures like street design, traffic management and investing in public transport are good for the local economy too. People who arrive at shops on foot spend the most over the course of a week or a month.

“Everyone in public health, local authorities and across the health and social care sector needs to work together to reduce the health harms of driving. For the sake of our health now and generations to come, we need a change in culture so that walking or cycling becomes part of our daily routine, rather than spending hours sitting in cars.

“The Government’s commitment to address local air quality is welcome. Success depends on meaningful national action to reverse the increasing proportion of diesel vehicles in the national fleet, together with serious investment in public transport, walking and cycling. Clean Air Zones alone will not deliver this.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Cleaning up the toxic air in our city is one of my top priorities and I am aiming to encourage people out of their cars by making cycling and walking far safer and easier, and ensuring public transport is affordable and efficient. There are some interesting ideas in this report and I hope the Faculty will respond to a consultation I have launched on my own hard-hitting action plan, which is designed to freshen our filthy air and protect the health of every Londoner.”

Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
“I fully support the Faculty of Public Health’s report on local actions to mitigate the health impacts of cars. Local measures that reduce the exposure of population, especially of vulnerable groups such as children, are of outmost priority given the widespread damaging effects of air pollution. The challenge is to ensure that these local initiatives really do reduce personal exposure – especially for individuals who choose to use active travel.  We must also not lose sight of the importance of national policy such as encouraging drivers of diesel cars and vans to switch to less polluting vehicles.”

Dr. Stephen Watkins, Chair of the Transport & Health Study Group, said: “Our present pattern of transport use is simply not sustainable. People buy cars as if they were going to drive them across a Scottish moor and they end up with their engines idling in a congestion problem which cannot be addressed by increased road capacity because this just releases suppressed demand for relocation. The healthy green alternative is for people to walk or cycle to the station and take the train. We need to be focussing on developing that alternative.”

Tony Lewis, head of education and policy for the CIEH, said: “FPH’s excellent report sets out clear and necessary measures to encourage us to get out of our cars and travel around by alternative means. If realised, we should see both air quality and health levels in our local communities improve immensely and FPH should be congratulated for putting health first above all else.

“Environmental health professionals are on the front-line protecting and improving the health of their local communities and have the right skills to help realise the forward-thinking ideas contained in this report.”

Local action to mitigate the health impacts of cars builds on the joint work of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Child and Paediatric Health (RCPCH), who produced the report, Every Breath We Take: the lifelong impact of air pollution, which was published in February 2016.

Download a copy of Local action to mitigate the health impacts of cars here

Written: 05/07/2016 , last modified: 27/10/2016