Within Kent there are areas of poor air quality which can seriously affect people’s health as well as harming plant life, ecosystems, and damaging buildings and materials.
The major cause of airborne pollution in Kent is road traffic; the year-on-year increase in the number of vehicles on the county’s roads and continuing development is making the problem worse.
“Planning policies should sustain compliance with and contribute towards EU limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas and the cumulative impacts on air quality from individual sites in local areas.”
Improving air quality can make for a healthier, happier population and a more pleasant environment. The benefits include:
- Improved physical wellbeing and life expectancy: the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates that air pollution reduces the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7 to 8 months (with health costs equivalent to £20 billion annually) (Local Government Group, 2011). A Public Health England report estimates that 5.6% of the deaths in Kent can be attributable to concentrations of anthropogenic particulate matter.
- Climate change mitigation: strategies to improve air quality overlap significantly with efforts to mitigate climate change; the transport sector is the only sector where carbon emissions continue to rise, and is also the major contributor to poor air quality (Local Government Group, 2011).
- Climate change adaptation: not only can trees filter pollutants from the air but they can also reduce temperatures in urban areas by providing shade and releasing moisture into the air. (Pugh, et al., 2012).
Air pollution in Kent is not a problem that can be tackled in isolation, there is a need for all sectors to work together to address the problem in a consistent manner. For this reason the Kent and Medway Air Quality Partnership was set up. The Partnership involves Kent County Council, the District Councils, the Environment Agency, and a number of consultants and research partners. The aim of the Partnership is to develop a consistent approach to tackling air pollution across the county, sharing knowledge and information between the partners and increasing public awareness of the issues.
“5.6% of the deaths in Kent can be attributable to concentrations of anthropogenic particulate matter. ”
Public Health England, 2014
Traffic management and active transport schemes can effectively reduce air pollution hotspots. Consultation between planners, health professionals, environment professionals and the local population is required to best understand the needs of a specific area (see Plymouth case study).
‘Green infrastructure’ such as green walls and street trees can have significant positive impact on air quality (Pugh, et al., 2012). For example the Department for Transport funded a green wall at Edgware Road tube station in London that is specifically designed to improve air quality, alongside other measures such as tree planting and no idling campaigns.