Local authorities should consider the impact of traffic-related air pollution when assessing planning applications.

That is the message from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which has just issued a revised standard on air quality.

In Air pollution: outdoor air quality and health (Quality standard QS181; available at http://bit.ly/2NImW5b), NICE addresses the issue of planning applications in some detail.

The built environment can, it states, affect the emission of road-traffic-related air pollutants by influencing how and how much people travel, while buildings can affect the way in which air pollutants are dispersed through their impact on street design and air flow.

By addressing air pollution at the planning stage for major developments, the need for more expensive remedial action at a later stage might be avoided, NICE explains.

When planning big building projects, developers should show planning authorities that they are actively looking to protect local people from the effects of air pollution by, for example, considering how buildings will affect the distribution of air pollution and siting facilities such as schools and care homes away from areas with high pollution levels.

Where possible, projects should also introduce features such as trees and vegetation in open spaces, or green roofs.

Commenting on the new standard, Professor Gillian Leng of NICE said it is important that local authorities implement strategies to ensure local people are protected from the effects of air pollution.

Poor air quality is associated with adverse health effects, including asthma attacks, reduced lung function, and admissions to hospital, she went on.

“As a society we need to think long term and collaboratively to improve air quality across the country and our guidance can help us to achieve that”, Professor Leng concluded.

Last reviewed 15 March 2019