December 2016

Research Reveals Economic Benefits of New Air Quality Guidance

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published draft guidance which seeks to improve air quality across England. To develop the guidance, NICE appointed  Eunomia and the University of the West of England (UWE) to research the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of measures local authorities have available to them to tackle air pollution from road transport.

Measures to tackle pollution from transport are  important as road transport contributes 80% to NOx pollution levels in areas where limits are exceeded, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Eunomia and UWE’s analysis suggests that the benefits may be much higher than the costs for some air quality interventions under certain circumstances. Interventions evaluated off-road cycle paths, street washing and sweeping, motorway speed restrictions, bypass construction, motorway barriers, road closures, Low Emission Zones (LEZ) and vehicle idling.1

The analysis forms part of NICE’s wider consultation aimed at local authority staff working in transport, planning and public health. It has been published at a time when the UK is failing to meet EU limit values for NO2, and when central government has the power to pass down fines from the European Commission to local government. Outdoor air pollution in the UK is estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year according to the RCPCH, whilst evidence from Defra indicates that the impacts from air pollution in the UK cost the economy £16 billion a year.

Professor Mark Baker, director for the centre of clinical practice at NICE said:

“The battle against air pollution has to be one we are all fully committed to. We can take steps now to encourage people to walk or cycle rather than drive, but these efforts will be futile if we do not have an achievable, long-term plan to improve air quality. This draft guidance from NICE seeks to redesign how we work and live in cities. When finalised, its recommendations will ensure that everyone who has the power to make the changes required can be confident in the action they are taking.”

The Air Quality Management Resource Centre at UWE, Bristol, which has a long history of working with local and national governments on air quality management, played a key role in the analysis – undertaking comprehensive research of the literature on measures to tackle air pollution from traffic.

Assistant Vice Chancellor, Professor James Longhurst from UWE, Bristol said:

“UWE is delighted to have worked in partnership with Eunomia on this important contract for NICE. The world-leading excellence in our respective disciplines will, we trust, lead to better targeted interventions to protect public health from traffic-related air pollution”.

The work undertaken for NICE builds on work Eunomia has previously completed for both DG Environment of the European Commission and the UK Environment Agency, using economic modelling techniques to help evaluate the cost effectiveness of a range of methods that can help reduce the impact of air pollution.

Eunomia Chairman, Dr Dominic Hogg said:

“Air pollution is an invisible killer. We have made considerable strides in cleaning up air, and the more visible smogs that were once common are more or less a thing of the past. Yet much more can be done to address these pollutants, and local authorities, through their transport plans and the way in which they shape mobility, the options they offer their residents, and the infrastructure they develop, can do much to reduce the extent of the problem. Interventions in the field of climate change have co-benefits in respect of air pollution, so those that address air pollution will generate benefits in respect of climate change.”

The report ‘Air Pollution: Economic Analysis’ is available to download for free on the Eunomia website here.

For all draft guidance documents from NICE, visit the website here. NICE is asking for comments in respect of the draft guidance on air quality via its website; the consultation will run until 25 January 2017.

Photo by Nicolò Lazzati (CC-BY-S.A 2.0), via www.flickr.com