Air pollution now exceeds pre-pandemic levels in 80% of places despite 98% of the country remaining under significant lockdown restrictions, new analysis conducted by Centre for Cities has revealed.
The first lockdown in early Spring saw nitrogen oxide (NO2) levels decline by 38% on average across 49 cities and large towns.
However, in some cities such as Barnsley, Bournemouth and Portsmouth, NO2 levels in September were already even higher than they were before the spring lockdown.
With private vehicle usage the main generator of air pollution, Centre for Cities has said that this data highlights the increased use of private vehicles, with many people avoiding public transport for fear of Covid-19 transmission.
Since March many councils, including Leeds, Bristol and Sheffield have stalled their pollution reduction plans, pointing to initial improvements in air quality.
As the risk from Covid-19 reduces and life returns to ‘normal’ next year, the charity is calling on Mayors and council leaders to press ahead with plans to reduce private-vehicle related emissions by:
• Discouraging car usage by introducing clean air zones that charge drivers
• Encouraging more public transport usage through improvements to bus, rail and tram systems
• Improving cycling and walking infrastructure to encourage more active forms of travel
Centre for Cities’ chief executive Andrew Carter said: ‘Toxic air has contributed to the deaths of thousands of Covid-19 victims this year and, even after the pandemic ends, will remain a big threat to health – particularly for those living in urban areas.
‘City leaders can reduce the threat of air pollution, but it will take political will. Discouraging car usage will be unpopular in the short-term but, if coupled with the necessary improvements to public transport, the long-term benefits to public health and the economy will be huge and our cities will become better places to live. Now is not the time for politicians to delay on this.’
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