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.”

NPPF, 2012

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.

  • Air quality and planning technical guidance – This technical guidance produced by the Kent and Medway Air Quality Partnership is aimed at local authorities, developers and consultants. It provides technical advice on how to deal with planning applications that could have an impact on air quality and human health.
  • DEFRA air quality tools – This page provides tools to assist local authorities with the local air quality Review and Assessment process, including air quality background concentration maps.
  • BUCCANEER – A practical risk mapping tool developed by Birmingham’s Green Infrastructure and Adaptation Partnership based on climate and health inequalities data, and the likely vulnerability of local communities.
  • Health contacts
  • Planning contacts
  • KentAir – this is the Kent and Medway Air Quality Monitoring Network which promotes the improvement of air quality within the region.
  • Kent County Council’s JSNA – contains a section on air quality and action areas for consideration.
  • Low Emission Strategies (LES) Partnership – the LES Partnership and LG Regulation have published Low Emission Strategies for Local Transport: Building the Case for Action.
  • Low Emission Strategies: Using the Planning System to Reduce Emissions – a good practice guide principally for local authorities in England to refer to when carrying out local air quality management. It is intended to help demonstrate how the planning system may be used to reduce air emissions from transport.
  • Plugging health into planning: evidence and practice – includes a section on reducing respiratory diseases.
  • Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation – guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that aims to set out how people can be encouraged to increase the amount they walk or cycle for travel or recreation purposes.
  • Protecting and enhancing our urban and natural environment to improve public health and wellbeing – this central government page provides an overview of legislation, policy and action on air quality.
  • Health effects of climate change in the UK 2012 – this report sets out evidence of the impacts of climate change on health, including as a result of the interaction between air pollution and climate change.
  • Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health – an overview of air pollution and its risk to health by the World Health Organisation.
  • Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution – this report gives an overview of the effects of air pollution on mortality in local authority areas in the UK. The assessments are expected to be useful to local health and wellbeing boards when assessing local public health priorities.
  • Making a Case for Investment in the walking Environment – produced by the University of the West of England and Cavill Associates, reviews the available evidence on the benefits of investing in the walking environment.
  • Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States – In the first broad-scale estimate of air pollution removal by trees nationwide, U.S. Forest Service scientists and collaborators calculated that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms.
  • Control of air quality at a Kent nursery – Environmental health (EH) officers often work closely with planners in reviewing planning applications. In this example, planners approached EH regarding a retrospective planning application for a children’s nursery in an area located next to a known air quality hot spot – next to the M20. The officer had concerns that the hourly air quality objective could be breached at the property façade or in the garden, but planners felt that requiring an air quality assessment from the application would be unreasonable. The pollution officer came to a compromise agreement with planners, allowing EH to monitor the air quality at the garden boundary and use real data to assess possible air quality health issues.
  • The 2010 joint Defra/Low Emission Strategies guide on using the planning system to reduce transport emissions documents a range of practice, especially from the London Borough of Greenwich. The local planning authority has been at the forefront of attempts to use planning to improve air quality. It was the first authority in the country to implement a low emission zone – the Greenwich Peninsula – which restricts the age of vehicles that can enter the area as a way of reducing emissions.
  • Mid Devon Council adopted an Air Quality Supplementary Planning Document in 2008. This included a formula, based on how many trips a development will generate, for assessing developer contributions to the authority’s air quality action plan. The developer contributions are paid via section 106 agreements and have so far generated 50 per cent of the funding for measures set out in the action plan. This includes measures to reduce health inequalities such as implementing an extended town bus service, improving the local railway station and building a new link road to divert HGV traffic away from residential areas.
  • Sexton Council has adopted a policy note on lowering transport emissions for use by development control planners. Its purpose is to encourage developers to help lower transport emissions, primarily through introducing electric vehicle recharging infrastructure. In time the note will be replaced by policies in the council’s core strategy and other development plan documents.
  • Hackney JSNA – Air Pollution Consideration – see the Air Quality section. The JSNA details Hackney’s framework for promoting health and wellbeing for spatial planning, which includes a section on air quality. It encourages the consideration of whether a proposed scheme promotes good air quality.
  • Plymouth Health Impact Assessment and transport scheme.