Build houses away from polluting roads, NHS watchdog warns

Build new houses away from polluting roads, NHS watchdog warns councils as campaigners claim dirty air is ‘killing thousands’

  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence issued guidance today
  • It said council planning departments should encourage greener building
  • Trees and plants should be planted in open space and on rooftops
  • Living Streets has warned dirty air is contributing to 36,000 annual deaths 

New homes should be built away from main roads, the NHS watchdog has said.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recommended houses, flats, schools, nurseries and care homes be protected from pollution.

It said properties should be built in way which reduces the need to use cars to get there, as one charity warns dirty air is killing thousands of people each year.

Vehicles churn out polluting gases including nitrogen dioxide, which can cause lung problems and trigger asthma attacks in both adults and children.

The advice comes after Friends of the Earth this week warned thousands of areas across the UK have levels of toxic pollution which breach safety limits.

Research by campaign group Friends of the Earth yesterday revealed more than 1,800 roads in the UK have pollution levels above the World Health Organization’s safe limit (stock image)

Nice has today suggested councils should use their planning permission powers to make sure developers take steps to reduce pollution where people live.

They should plant trees and plants outside and on roofs, and create areas for people to walk and cycle in clean air, it said.

‘Poor air quality is associated with adverse health effects, including asthma attacks, reduced lung function, and admissions to hospital,’ said the organisation’s Professor Gillian Leng.

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‘As a society we need to think long-term and collaboratively to improve air quality across the country. Our guidance can help us to achieve that.’

And Nice added councils should actively try to reduce the number of people on the roads, encouraging them to take public transport, cycle or walk.

Yesterday, environmental charity Friends of the Earth revealed there are 1,845 streets across the UK which have dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Britain’s worst pollution hotspots was outside Earls Court tube station in Kensington and Chelsea borough in London where the annual average of 129.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air was triple that of the World Health Organization’s 40 mcg limit

Eight out of the 10 worst places are in London, with other offenders in Doncaster, Leeds, Banbury, Maidstone and Sheffield.

The worst polluted place in Britain, the campaign group revealed, is the road outside Earl’s Court underground station in West London.

Simon Bowens, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: ‘It’s unforgivable that across the UK there are nearly two thousand locations over air quality limits, leaving millions of us breathing dangerously polluted air.

‘Air pollution is often an issue thought of as affecting only the biggest cities.

‘The reality is that unacceptably toxic air can be found across much of the UK, even in smaller towns.

‘It is harming the health of people across the country and is especially bad for young children whose lungs are still developing.’

Nice has suggested in the past that emergency vehicles and bin lorries should be given electric engines in a bid to start a widespread conversion to eco-vehicles, The Times reports.

And it says city roads lined with tall buildings on both sides create ‘canyons’ where pollution builds up and should be avoided by planners.

‘Dirty air is currently contributing to 36,000 premature deaths a year in the UK,’ said Stephen Edwards, director of policy at walking charity Living Streets.

‘[It] is having a particularly negative impact on children. NICE’s air pollution quality standard is much needed.

‘It is essential that strategic planning policies reduce our reliance on polluting vehicles by making it easier for people to walk more.’ 


The UK’s air pollution was labelled a ‘national embarrassment’ in September.

Figures for 2017 showed 37 out of 43 air quality zones across the UK had illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, the same number as the previous year.

Annual average levels of the pollutant from exhaust fumes fell in most places, figures from the Government and environmental law charity ClientEarth revealed.

But levels are still more than double the legal limit in Greater London and also well over the limit in areas including South Wales, West Midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.

Brighton, Worthing and Littlehampton in West Sussex – an area declared as legal in the previous year – crept up to just below the threshold again, the statistics show.

The UK has been breaching EU pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles, since the rules came into effect in 2010.

Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and is linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and even dementia.

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