Call for UK Government to join up cycling and walking policies with air quality plans to tackle crisis

Cyclist on Londons Cycle Superhighway

The UK Government needs to take meaningful action on air pollution

cyclists Carlton Vale, London
21 March 2018

We set out recommendations for the UK Government, from local authority and public health representatives, to solve UK’s air pollution crisis.

The UK Government should join up policies that have a positive impact on air quality, starting with properly funding and linking cycling and walking plans with Clean Air Plans.

The “Actively Improving Air Quality” report from a round table Sustrans held with local authorities and Chris Boardman, in his role as Greater Manchester’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner sets out ten recommendations for UK and local government, and charities working in the field, to help clean up the air.

It follows the joint parliamentary committee inquiry report published last week, which calls for the UK Government to take meaningful action on air pollution amid a series of court rulings in recent years.

The report concludes that cycling and walking programmes have a key role to play in reducing emissions from motor vehicles, which are responsible for the majority of air quality limit breaches in the UK, through a shift away from car journeys.

However, there are many barriers that local authorities currently face that prevent them from effectively implementing such programmes, including lack of political leadership on air quality; timing – the pressure for immediate success; funding; car dominance and lack of community engagement.

Other key report recommendations for the UK Government to overcome these barriers include:

  • Lead a national campaign to increase awareness and build momentum from communities to tackle air pollution and give politicians the mandate to act.
  • Prioritise direct measures to limit private vehicles as the mode of choice into city centres as a central component of Clean Air Zones, and help local authorities take action to deliver long-term continuous improvement in air quality beyond 2020.
  • Provide dedicated, continuous funding for walking and cycling to enable local authorities to prepare active travel programmes that are shovel-ready to tackle air pollution.

Furthermore, local government should place health practitioners in transport and planning teams, to help integrate cycling and walking infrastructure that promotes a healthier lifestyle and better air quality.

Anita Konrad, England Director for Sustrans said:

“We face an air quality crisis. This is an invisible issue that kills tens of thousands of people prematurely every year in the UK; and will be the greatest environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050.

“One of the best ways to improve air quality in the UK is to reduce the number of motorised vehicles on the road and offer alternatives to private vehicle travel, such as walking and cycling.

“We’re calling on the UK Government to take joined-up action on linking policy and funding for walking, cycling and reducing air pollution and to help local authorities to encourage more people to travel by bike and on foot for shorter journeys. It is time for the Government to take the lead and work with others to deliver tangible solutions to save lives.”

Neil Tuck, Sustainable City Team Leader at Southampton City Council said:

“We want to see a long term commitment by Government to delivering ongoing improvements to air quality that go beyond compliance to EU standards by 2020.

“Accessing funding for, and developing, walking and cycling schemes needs to be made as easy as possible, and a priority for Government, if we are to enable healthier lifestyles, improve air quality and see long term transformation in UK cities. Promoting the health benefits associated with active and sustainable travel is essential for creating an environment where people want to live and work.”

In joint research with environmental consultancy Eunomia, released last year, Sustrans found that if government goals for walking and cycling in England and Scotland were reached, this would save the public purse £9.3 billion and reduce over 12,000 premature deaths from air pollution over the next decade. The gains would be even bigger if wider benefits to health and wellbeing from increased physical activity were included.

To read the full report go to

Notes to editors

For further information and to request interviews contact:

Anna Galandzij, Senior Press Officer at Sustrans, 07557 915 648, [email protected]
Liv Denne, Press and Media Officer at Sustrans, 07768 035318, [email protected]

  1. Twenty nine local authorities in England that are breaking legal air quality limits are to produce Clean Air Plans by November 2018 with this number set to increase following successful legal action by Client Earth against the Government, whilst the devolved nations are trialling a number of different plans to improve air quality. The Scottish Government, for instance, is proposing to introduce Low Emission Zones in four cities by 2020 and air quality management areas (AQMAs) by 2023 across the country.
  2. Sustrans is the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle.  We connect people and places, create liveable neighbourhoods, transform the school run and deliver a happier, healthier commute. Sustrans is a registered charity no. 326550 (England and Wales) SCO39263 (Scotland).
  3. Established in 2001, Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd (‘Eunomia’) is a Bristol-based, independent consultancy and an appointed advisor to many types of organisations including the European Commission;