'Luton air pollution the equivalent of smoking 140 cigarettes a year'
Luton has come bottom in two damning studies of air pollution – with one analysis claiming living in the town is the equivalent of smoking 140 cigarettes per year.
The shocking conclusion by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was drawn from figures published by Public Health England, which found Luton has the highest average daily level of air pollution in the east of England.
The charity is urging action from local authorities as well as for the government to adopt tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits.
Jacob West, director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, said: “Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.
“As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live.”
Elsewhere, a joint study by the Universities of Birmingham and Lancaster placed Luton at the bottom of the 146 most populated areas of the UK in terms of air pollution dispersal.
Although emission rates are normal in line with the town’s population, the study found that Luton’s compact town centre means air pollution is not being dispersed adequately.
At the opposite end of the scale, Milton Keynes came out top of the analysis, with substantially better dispersal of air pollution thanks to its grid system of roundabouts and open spaces.
The new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, studied the impact of town planning in controlling air pollution concentrations.
Lead author Professor Rob MacKenzie said: “Milton Keynes is at the top of our list, doing much better than we would expect, with the biggest gap between the amount of pollution produced and the concentrations in the air we breathe.
“The town’s middling rank for emissions reflects personal transport choices and the town’s traffic management. It’s much better than expected performance for concentrations reflects the way the city is laid out, with its distinctive mix of grids and roundabouts, and the inclusion of parks and green spaces, which all contribute to this overall effect.
“In contrast, we have Luton right down at the bottom.
“This is a more densely populated urban area doesn’t gain much benefit from its compactness in terms of emissions and its compactness works against dispersion of pollution resulting in worse-than-expected city-wide concentrations.”
A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: “We continually strive to improve the air quality for the wellbeing of people of the town and have made a public commitment to carry out more urgent work to tackle climate change.
“As part of this commitment we quickly established a cross party working group – The Climate Change Action Board – which is working with key partners and organisations to urgently drive forward a robust action plan to move Luton to zero carbon before the government’s target of 2050.
“Air pollution levels in Luton are constantly monitored and we have recently published our Luton Town Centre Air Quality Action Plan which outlines a number of key actions aimed at reducing pollution in that area. We are currently working on an Air Quality strategy that covers the whole town, which we hope to be able to finalise in 2020.
“We have already been tackling the issue in a number of ways, such as the implementation of improved traffic management schemes across the town, designed to reduce pollution through alleviating traffic congestion. Planned measures include encouraging a greater use of electric and low emission vehicles, encouraging planting more trees/shrubs and sustainable construction in order to reduce pollution, and implementing Sustainable Travel Plans for town centre businesses.
“We will be happy to review the analysis by the universities of Birmingham and Lancaster to see if it offers any valuable insights that will assist us in improving air quality in Luton.”