Chief planner endorses Whitty report highlighting ‘important role’ of urban planning in reducing air pollution

The government’s chief planner has endorsed a report by the chief medical officer which concludes that planning “should support” a shift to active travel where possible in order to reduce air pollution.

In her latest newsletter, chief planner Joanna Averly said chief medical officer Chris Whitty’s annual report on air pollution “highlights the role of planning in reducing the concentration of pollutants locally and promoting health”. 

The report’s section on urban planning, written by Averly, highlights a number of ways in which urban planning can address air pollution, including 20-minute neighbourhoods, urban greening and promoting active travel. 

In the report, which was published last month, Whitty recommends that urban planning should be used to “support reducing air pollution concentrations locally”, especially near schools and healthcare settings. 

He adds: “Shifting to active travel where possible has direct health wins as well as reducing air pollution from vehicles – planning should support this.”

Whitty goes on to state that, to minimise harm from aviation-related air pollution, “the location of future airports and land use near airports are considerations for long-term planning".

In highlighting the report, Averley noted the “important role of urban planning in reducing air pollution emissions and people’s exposure to it”. This includes “infrastructure that promotes using active forms of transport… influencing the concentration of pollutants in areas of high building density and the impact of urban greening”, she said. 

In the report, she highlights the influence of the planning system on road traffic and urban development to “reduce people’s exposure to air pollution”. 

Urban planning “can help by avoiding siting homes and active travel routes directly next to traffic routes”, she said, while new neighbourhoods should be “designed in a way that reduces vehicle dependency, through the creation of compact mixed-use neighbourhoods”. 

Averly’s letter also announces the establishment of a new executive agency Active Travel England (ATE) which will aim to put active travel “at the heart of plan-making”. 

As a statutory consultee, local authorities will be required to consult ATE on any applications that include more than 150 dwellings, 75,000 square metres of commercial space and sites of five hectares or more. This will apply from 1 June this year, the newsletter states. 

Meanwhile, the letter also notes the Department for Transport’s publication of an updated circular on the strategic road network. According to Averley, the circular sets out how National Highways “engage in plan-making and decision taking” and responds to the government’s commitment to the delivery of zero emission transport. 

The updates in the circular include the “provision of user friendly and accessible electric vehicle charge points at motorway service areas” and the “creation of better facilities for HGV drivers and other network users”. 

Averley further highlighted the introduction of a new trees and woodland strategy toolkit, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. According to Averley, the toolkit is designed to “equip local authorities to plan, create or update” their own trees and woodland strategies and “harness the long term benefits that trees can bring to local communities”. 

A version of this story was first published by ENDS Report’s sister publication Planning Resource.