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City roads should be ‘ripped out completely’ to fight pollution, says government adviser

Leeds City Square
Leeds City Square - Kelvin Jay / Getty Images

A government adviser has called for roads in cities to be “ripped out completely” to combat air pollution.

Dr Gary Fuller, a member of Defra’s air quality expert group, said that cities should instead be turned into “green spaces” where residents and children could relax and play free from pollution.

The Imperial College academic has been an independent reviewer of research that supported the expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

His comments came in a talk to Brighton residents about measures to combat the 29,000 to 43,000 people dying early each year in the UK as a result of nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution.

Traffic an ‘invasive species’

He cited a north London councillor who described traffic as an “invasive species” that “swamps all other types of transport”. Up to 80 per cent of people living on arterial routes in urban areas did not own cars, with most of the pollution being caused by motorists driving into and through their communities.

Pointing to the “greening” of city centres such as Seoul and Utrecht, he said: “We should start changing our cities and actually start thinking about ripping out road infrastructure and turning them into green spaces or green transport corridors. We have to look beyond traffic.”

This needed to be combined with a drive to get people out of their cars and into walking, cycling and using public transport, which would not only help tackle climate change but also improve health and so reduce pressures on the NHS.

Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of car journeys were under two miles and 60 per cent under five miles. “You could really walk two miles. By the time you get in the car, parked it, you have arrived there in the same time,” said Dr Fuller.

He also called for people to limit the use of “personal care products”, “computers” and “printers” in their homes which he said were contributing to pollution.

“We have to think about the personal care products that we’re using in our homes. How many people have a printer in their home? Yes, lots of people for their computer? A fair few,” he said.

“But we’re putting solvents into our homes and putting solvents into the outside world. So summertime pollution, more of it is now being caused by the products we use in our home than all of industry put together. It’s a massive problem.”

He also warned that wood-burning stoves were contributing to pollution with up to 200,000 being sold annually and eight per cent of UK homes now burning solid fuels. Nearly half of those burning wood (46 per cent) were from the top two social classes, the “middle- and really upper middle-class people.”