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RTPI: Planning ‘central’ to improving air quality

Words: Laura Edgar
Cycling / iStock-532408122

Active travel and congestion charging zones are needed to improve air quality, with planning being a central tool for bringing the built environment, infrastructure and air quality together, says the RTPI.

In its response to the consultation on the draft UK Air Quality Plan, the institute has called on the UK Government to join up land use and transport planning so that new developments prioritise active travel – walking and cycling – and public transport.

Vehicle-based air pollution results in part from low-density, car-dependent urban expansion, with car ownership numbers increasing, the cost of driving decreasing and fragmented public transport networks.

The response states that the government’s plan contains little on the “critical relationship” between urban form, infrastructure and air quality, despite evidence to the contrary.

There are existing measures in the planning system, in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, such as development management and local plans that could be better used to prevent new development generating air pollution.

However, the RTPI has warned that funding and staff shortages are preventing councils from implementing strong air quality measures and policies.

The RTPI has suggested money raised from charging vehicles to enter Clean Air Zones, like the one currently used in London, could be reinvested by councils to improve monitoring and enforcement. It could also be used to develop technical capacity to create maps that integrate land, transport and infrastructure.

The institute also pointed towards the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which sets out the need to guide developments towards locations that make use of public transport, walking and cycling. Schools and hospitals should be located away from heavily polluted areas.

It also noted that Scottish Government is much clearer on the role planning can play in reducing car dependency and promoting, public transport, cycling and walking in Cleaner air for Scotland strategy, published in 2015.

James Harris, policy and networks manager, said: “The draft plan says little on the critical relationship between the built environment, infrastructure and air quality and how planning can link these together. We know planning has a central role to play – it is already being used as a tool to improve air quality in Scotland. Their successful measures should be a part of the solution the government applies across the UK in its final plan."

The RTPI's full response to the consultation on the draft UK Air Quality Plan can be found on the institute’s website (pdf).

Read more:

UK-wide consultation on air quality launched

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