Meeting cycling and walking aims 'would prevent thousands of premature deaths'

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Thousands of premature deaths will be avoided if walking and cycling targets are met in England and Scotland, according to a new study.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans says its research is the first to reveal the health and financial benefits of improving air quality by reducing the number of journeys made by motorised vehicles.

It believes rolling out segregated cycle lanes and developing quieter routes across the UK is needed to reduce the reliance on cars.

Cycling and walking
Campaigners want more segregated cycle lanes to encourage people to leave cars at home (Yui Mok/PA)

The analysis, published in partnership with environmental consultancy Eunomia, found that more than 8,300 premature deaths from air pollution in England would be prevented over 10 years if the Government's aims of doubling cycling and increasing walking were achieved.

This would also save the economy £567 million each year from cleaner air, according to the analysis.

Nearly 4,000 premature deaths would be avoided in Scotland over a decade if the country's ambition of one in 10 journeys being made by bike was realised, with a saving of £364 million.

Hitting UK active travel targets could prevent more than 12,000 premature deaths from #airpollution and save the economy billions over 10 years - our new research w/ @Eunomia_RandChttps://t.co/QsV5MUfwfL#active4cleanairpic.twitter.com/KhTcnsN7bp

-- Sustrans (@sustrans) December 4, 2017

Sustrans chief executive Xavier Brice said: "At a time when road transport is responsible for the majority of air quality limit breaches in the UK, it has never been more important to reduce the number of motorised vehicles on our roads.

"The new findings reiterate that walking and cycling has a huge role to play in tackling the air quality crisis that causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

"If we are to make a major modal shift, we need to provide a network of direct protected cycle routes on roads in addition to quieter routes across the UK.

"We're urging governments at all levels to include funding for walking and cycling infrastructure in their clean air plans and for the UK Government to prioritise investment in active travel as part of wider urgent action to make air safe again."

The Government was ordered to produce the latest air pollution plans after the courts ruled previous proposals were insufficient to meet EU pollution limits, which the UK has breached since the rules came into effect in 2010.

The plans included £255 million to help local authorities come up with ways to improve air quality, ranging from improving public transport and changing road layouts, to charging zones for polluting vehicles if other measures are insufficient.

But much of the focus was on plans to end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The Government faces further legal action over its latest proposals as environmental law firm ClientEarth believes the plans still fall short of what is needed.

Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and is linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and even dementia.