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Cambridge headteachers asked to trial car-free zones around primary schools

Car-free zones could be introduced around primary schools as part of a package of measures to tackle air quality issues in Cambridge.

Exhaust fumes from queuing vehicles outside schools are harmful to children
Exhaust fumes from queuing vehicles outside schools are harmful to children

Councillors will also debate whether or not to set up a cross-agency action group at a meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on Tuesday (May 14).

County councillor Peter Hudson (Con, Longstanton, Northstowe and Over) will present a motion calling for “a more co-ordinated response across all council departments and partner organisations”.

“We’ve got to get the right people around the right table to make the right decisions for the right way forward,” he explained.

Headteachers are being asked to volunteer to be part of a pilot scheme which will look at no-car zones around their sites.

The motion reads: “We believe that while we cannot deal with everything and everywhere all at once, it is important to look at and understand what we can do much more rapidly in terms of protecting our vulnerable children from air pollution.”

Cllr Hudson added: “They are currently looking for primary schools to volunteer, so they can look at how it will work and to try it out. I want to go a step further than that – and that’s to get everyone together around a table to discuss what we can do on a more permanent basis.”

Work is already being undertaken to tackle poor air quality and reduce congestion around schools through promoting safe active travel and park and stride, where parents walk the final stretch to school. But a joined-up approach is crucial, said Cllr Hudson.

“With the issue of clean air and pollution, there’s not one authority that has total responsibility for it. It’s split between lots of organisations. What we’re trying to do is get all of the organisations together to come up with some sort of action plan,” he said. “Whatever we do has to have everybody’s agreement including schools and it has to be managed and systems put in place. It has to be done properly and this is the only way we can get everybody together. I think it’s worth doing from a public health point of view.”

Air pollution can lead to both short-term and long-term effects on health. The main sources of air pollution in Cambridge are vehicle exhausts and the burning of items, known as local combustion.

Experts warn children are more vulnerable to breathing in polluted air than adults as they breathe more air each minute compared to adults. Young children in buggies and prams are also on a level with vehicle exhausts.

Children who breathe in high levels of air pollution over a long period might be at risk of their lungs not working as well when they grow older and of developing related health conditions, such as asthma, wheezing and coughs.

In Cambridge, there are known hotspots of poor air quality. These include urban areas and transport corridors such as the A14 and key central routes like Milton Road, and locations where there is a lot of standing traffic and buses, like Drummer Street. Air quality outside schools throughout the county also suffers during the school run.

District and city councils have statutory requirements to assess and monitor air quality, and where required, develop action plans. The county council and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, as transport authorities, are responsible for actions and interventions, which can mitigate or reduce air pollution while the county’s public health team have a role in assessing the health impacts of air pollution and providing advice and guidance on taking appropriate action.

The motion will be discussed, debated and voted on at next week’s meeting. If it gets voted through, the chief executive will be asked to form a working group to create an action plan.

A county council spokesperson said: “Working with our partners we are tackling poor air quality around the county. One of the examples of this is the pilot no-car zone scheme around schools. We are currently identifying the best locations to pilot this and a list of potential areas will be presented to committee for discussion.”

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50 people die in Cambridge each year because of air pollution - now there are calls to take more action

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