This Walk to School Week (21-25 May), 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. It includes a call for cars to be banned from the school gates at drop off and pick up times.
Over 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. There is no consensus across the academic community that children are more protected inside the car than out of it. There is evidence that the benefits of being physically active outweigh the air pollution risk.
The National Audit Office’s most recent report found that 37 of 43 air quality zones in Britain do not meet EU regulations.