Air quality and green infrastructure

A discussion on air quality and green infrastructure

The impact of air pollution from cars and vans (in particular diesels) on human health has been in the news recently with a study produced by the University of Bath and the University of Oxford estimating ‘that cars and vans are responsible for more than a quarter (5.9 billion a year) of the total UK health damage costs from air pollution’.

The effects of air pollution on human health are well documented and in summary include reduced life expectancy, increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer as well as low birth weight and premature births. There is also a strong link between air pollution and worsening of asthma symptoms/attacks. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

Poor air quality can also have adverse effects on our natural environment affecting precious ecosystems and causing toxic damage.

As individuals there are many things we can do to reduce air pollution including using public transport, walking or cycling to our destinations, upgrading to electric or hybrid vehicles and consuming less energy but what can be done on a wider scale?

A study published in 2017 in the journal ‘Atmospheric Environment’ and led by the University of Surrey highlights that green infrastructure can play a significant role in mitigating against urban air pollution and that with careful design could help to improve air quality. Green infrastructure being ‘A network of multi-functional green space, urban and rural that is capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits’.

Interestingly the study found:

• That low-level hedges improve air quality in street canyons (a street flanked by buildings on both sides) in comparison to high level trees which can have an adverse effect unless they are spaced and managed correctly;
• In open road environments a mixture of trees and bushes can act as barriers to improving air quality behind them;
• Green walls/roofs are effective to reduce pollution in streets/open roads.

Research into the impact of green infrastructure on air quality is ongoing, however it is clear that developers have an important part to play. A development which fully integrates green infrastructure into the design and carefully considers air quality impacts and how to avoid them from the outset will help to provide healthy communities for generations to come.

It’s Clean Air Day on the 21st June. Why not get involved? For more information visit

The government is currently consulting seeking views on its draft Clean Air Strategy. For more information visit:

Links to articles:

The health costs of air pollution from cars and vans –

Atmospheric Environment –

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