Cllr | The air that you breathe…


The air that you breathe…

One of the first announcements of the new Mayor of London was that of improving air quality was going to be a prime public health issue for him to tackle. Catherine Heffernan says why this is so important.

A clean air mask is seen placed on the face of the Oliver Cronwell statute outside the Houses of Parliament by Greenpeace activists to protest against air pollution quality in London and cities across the UK.

The announcement was perhaps no surprise given that local and national media have extensively covered the recent World Health Organisation [WHO] report that pollution had risen by 8% in the past five years.

While fast growing cities in the Middle East, south east Asia and the western Pacific were highlighted as showing pollution levels at five to 10 times the recommended WHO levels, UK cities had average levels of air pollution above legal limits.

Port Talbot was purported to be the worst in the UK for dangerous particles. London didn’t fare too well either, with reports that its level of PM2.5 – that is, tiny particulates of pollution which are less than 2.5mm in diameter had contributed to an estimated 4,267 deaths in 2008. Another article reported that due to the large volume of nitrogen dioxide also present in the air, up to 10,000 deaths could be attributed to breathing in fumes.

These reports very much hit home at a recent public health executive meeting I attended where I learned that 29,000 excess deaths in the UK each year have a causal factor of poor air quality, from cars, buses and lorries. (Air pollution is predominantly caused by road traffic). Effects are over a lifetime rather than being immediate.  Moreover, one in four adults further deteriorate their air quality by smoking.

Air pollution does affect health, but while there are concerns about the quality of air in many urban areas, the air pollution in the UK does not rise to levels at which people need to make major changes to their daily lives to  avoid exposure, such as not going  outdoors or not exercising for fear of inhaling more pollutants. Certain people are at higher risk of being affected such as adults with heart conditions, adults and children with lung conditions and/or asthma. Itcan be difficult to predict when air pollutants increase but they can flocculate and people with asthma may notice that they require their medication. There is some evidence that asthma can be induced by living near busy junctions or roads with heavy traffic.

Reducing air pollution is already a common issues for discussions at local authority level. WHO talks about global reduction in carbon emissions, moving away from burning coal and fossils fuels, and shifting our transport system from hydrocarbons to electricity. The European Union passed the Ambient Air Directive in 2008 that set legally binding limits for all its EU members for concentrations in outdoor air of major particulate matter [PM10 and PM2.5] and nitrogen dioxide.

Apart from the direct health effects, these gases can combine to form an ozone of harmful gases that can then be transported great distances by weather systems. Within the UK, local authorities have statutory duties to monitor air quality in their areas. What’s new is that for the first time the effects of air pollution has become a priority among the public health issues we need to tackle in the 2010s. So what can be done by local health partnerships to minimize the impact of air quality on health?

Apart from regulatory interventions, community level and individual level interventions can help. Reducing the community’s carbon footprint is a good first step. Walking or cycling to work, car sharing, using and demanding better public transport are excellent initial steps to reduce our carbon emissions. Fewer cars on the road means less traffic and less fumes to breathe in. This is something where local councils have an important role to play, for example by working with schools to encourage parents to  reduce use of cars in the drop off and collection from schools by joining ‘walking buses’ or taking it in turns to drive them.

Working with local businesses to reduce their carbon footprint is important too. The biggest carbon footprint of the NHS is the travel its procurement takes – for example, transport of its medical supplies. Encouraging local production and purchasing will not only help boost the local economy but will help reduce time and distance of the productson the road, reducing emissions.

Other community initiatives include considering the effects of air pollution when looking at planning proposals for new buildings for example the positioning of new schools in relation to busy traffic and roads and the expected pollutant emissions from commercial buildings.

Catherine Heffernan is Principal Advisor for Early Years Commissioning, Immunisations and Vaccinations, NHS England

APSE Direct News | Homes for all!

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May/June 20216

Homes for all!

Catch up on the latest housing research by APSE and the TCPA, which follows up on our previous research, Housing The Nation: Ensuring Councils can deliver more and better homes


The latest APSE housing research, Housing The Nation: Ensuring Councils can deliver more and better homesis a collaborative effort between the APSE[TCPA] and APSE. Our aim was to establish the latest position on housing across the UK and, crucially, find out how local councils could produce the homes needed to support everybody in their local community.

The latest household projections for England, published in November 2015, suggest we need over 220,000 additional homes each year until 20131 if we are to accommodate the projected growth in households. Currently, however, we are reaching just over half that figure. To catch up by 2020, we will now need to create over 310,000 homes a year over the next 5 years. This in itself is a stark finding; as the goal to provide enough homes slips further away each time we fail to meet these targets, the pressure on housing delivery is inevitably intensified.

Whilst Government policy has been concentrated on the delivery of so-called affordable homes, the research calls into question what we can reasonably describe as “affordable”. Housing shortages, and the resultant high prices and rents, mean that young people are living with parents or in house shares for longer, rather than forming a household of their own. Rising student debt levels and potential future welfare reform are likely to make their position even more difficult. Even if the homes required are actually built, the latest Government  household projections suggest that couples aged between 25 and 34 will be less able to live in their own home n 2031 than their counterparts in 2011.

Housing need has huge implications beyond those unable to afford to buy or rent their own property. Improved planning and better housing have long been identified as essential for improving the health of communities, reducing health inequalities and cutting costs for the taxpayer.

Conversely, poor quality housing and inadequate supply of new homes impacts on the social well-being of communities, with costs to the NHS reportedly at £1.4bn. A lack of decent affordable housing also reduces labour mobility and undermines the ability of our towns and cities to attract new businesses.

A recent CBI survey [London Business Survey, September 2015]highlighted that housing costs and availability in London were having a negative impact on companies’ ability to retain and recruit staff, particularly employees on lower incomes; 57% of businesses surveyed report that housing cost and availability was negatively impacting on attempts to recruit entry level staff.

So what are we, APSE and the TCPA, calling for? We want the Government to develop a housing strategy for the nation that provides decent homes for everyone in society, including those dependent on social and genuinely affordable housing for rent. Whilst efforts have been concentrated on affordable homes to buy, we want the Government to ensure that local authorities are at the heart of this new housing strategy, not least because the definition of “affordability” should be determined locally. Councils are best placed to respond to local need, but they require the freedom and flexibility to deliver new homes.

We are also calling upon Government to reverse its decision to reduce social rents by 1% per year for the next 4 years – this move alone has taken millions away from local authorities’ ability to invest in the social rented sector. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 arguably further removes councils from the equation, introducing new changes changes to Right To Buy and the selling off of the most valuable housing assets.

APSE and the TCPA believe that councils, despite the added burdens placed on them by the Housing and Planning Act, can play a stronger role in driving the delivery of new homes, either on their own or through joint vneture. Our research explores the role of local housing companies working alongside councils to deliver new homes. Council land and assets can help drive investment in the most sustainable locations, and the private rental sector can help meet local housing needs, generating long-term income streams in the process.  Councils investing in  the private rented sector can also encourage others to invest in their local areas, and bring about positive investments. This can include providing greater choice and better quality accommodation for those reliant on the private rented sector. Whilst the private rented sector will not replace the need for social rented homes, it is part of the toolkit available to local councils, allowing them to respond to urgent local housing need.

Case studies within the report have found councils being innovative, using local housing companies.

Thurrock Council established a local housing company, named Gloriana. Wholly-owned by the the council, Gloriana is delivering 1,000 new affordable homes over the next 5 years, as well as a 10% increase – using current projections – in the number of new private sector homes delivered over the next 5 years. All of these new council homes will be built to London Space Standards and Lifetime Homes, reflecting high quality design and materials.

Within the London Borough of Harrow, their Great Estates Model has established a local regeneration company with ambitions to deliver a £1.75bn investment programme into Harrow and Wealdstone town centres. Included within the regeneration plan is the delivery of 5,500 new homes, 2 new schools, around 3,000 new jobs and a district heating network to service major sites alongside a £31.3m funding pot through the Mayor of London’s Housing Zones scheme.

In Manchester, the Housing Investment Fund – a joint venture between Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered by Tameside Council – was established to deliver private rented sector housing, delivering on local housing need whilst also creating a return for the Local Government Pension Fund.

In Edinburgh, a council-led joint venture using the National Housing Trust initiative is helping to deliver new affordable homes using £182m of private and public funding. However, Edinburgh is not just delivering standard housing units – of 1,055 new affordable homes completing in 2014/15, around 115 homes were specifically designed with older people in mind.

In another best practice example, Aberdeen has created a new council-led joint venture with People For Places, which is set to to deliver homes for key workers on modest incomes. They plan to develop an initial 1,000 affordable homes and 1,000 private development homes, with the potential for a further 1,000 properties and an investment pot for affordable housing and private development of £300m.

We know that the solutions to the housing crisis facing the UK are complex. Yet, our findings show that without local councils in the driving seat, we cannot deliver the homes we need. A failure to local councils at the heart of housing delivery, and to address the need for new social homes to rent, will spell catastrophe for a whole generation struggling to either afford to buy so-called affordable homes, or rent from a largely unregulated private rented sector.

Now is the time for Government to place councils at the heart of delivering homes for all.