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Caitie Gillett discusses clean air solutions

Caitie Gillett (Clean Air Programme Manager at CEN)

Clean air solutions have too often fallen victim to a narrative that they are punitive policies that attack ordinary peoples’ ability to conveniently live their lives. And while there is no doubt that we will need to make changes to reduce our exposure to harmful air pollutants, clean air solutions offer an opportunity to transform communities across the country.

Like with much of environment policy, air quality is littered with technical jargon, acronyms and ambitious yet incomprehensible national targets. This means that while clean air is almost universally desired, there is little appetite from individuals to make changes to their lives because it is seen as too complicated and too big a problem to make a real difference.

By focusing on the tangible benefits it is easier to appreciate how individuals and local communities will contribute to cleaner air up and down the country. Showing how policies give individuals more choice on how to get around, greater independence for the young and elderly and more road space for those who need it make clean air solutions seem less punitive, more logical and easier to understand.

For instance, we should discuss how in a time where many local high streets are facing a decline, clean air solutions can provide a lifeline. Noisy, dirty and polluting traffic detracts from the feel of a place and the local high street experience. Initiatives to help more people walk and cycle, will not only improve town centres but give people greater choice in how to travel.

Other measures like introducing al-fresco dining and pedestrianisation in conjunction with creating park and ride services, new footpaths or upgrades to local bus routes can encourage residents to keep the car at home. And these measures will also help to support local businesses as the high street becomes a relaxing and pleasant place for residents to enjoy.

However, to make a real difference to our air quality, we cannot limit action to just tackling pollution from transport. In the UK there are four million households not connected to the gas grid that rely on domestic burning to heat their homes — a practice that produces more of the most damaging air pollutants than HGVs.

So, as a short-term fix, we should be highlighting the benefits of switching to cleaner and less smokey fuels, such as those approved by HETAS. These can help households reduce their exposure to the most harmful pollutants whilst also heating the home more efficiently, effectively and cheaply.

In the long term, the switch to cleaner forms of heating such as heat pumps will slash our exposure to some of the worst air pollutants. And in a time of international gas and oil market volatility the switch to electric will protect households from the challenges of rocketing energy bills.

Tackling air pollution is a complex, yet not insurmountable challenge. But by decoupling the solutions to air pollution from nitty-gritty details like ‘reaching our 10 micrograms for fine particulate matter’, individuals will be able to see how their contribution to reduce air pollution is necessary and worthwhile.


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