Pilot project could restrict traffic outside Oxfordshire schools in a bid to reduce air pollution

A project which seeks to improve air quality by restricting traffic flow outside schools could be piloted by Oxfordshire County Council.

‘School Streets’ has already been successfully trialled in other parts of the country and now primary schools in Oxfordshire will be asked if they are interested in taking part.

The project aims to reclaim roads outside schools from traffic at the start and end of each day, reducing air pollution outside the school gates and making it easier for children to walk, cycle or scoot to school.

It’s all part of the county council’s commitment to thriving communities – we help people live safe, healthy lives and play an active part in their community.

‘School Streets’ will be discussed at the Oxfordshire Schools Clean Air Network seminar taking place at County Hall on Clean Air Day (June 20) at 4.30pm - book here https://schools-clean-air-seminar.eventbrite.co.uk.

More than 10 schools have already signed up to the seminar which has been organised by Oxford Friends of the Earth.

Delivering a cleaner and healthier future

Schools will need to engage with staff, governors, parents and the local community before registering their interest in ‘School Streets’.

As part of the county council’s commitment to improving air quality, officers from its Public Health and Communities teams have been investigating the possibility of introducing traffic restrictions outside the school gates.

Restrictions won’t be enforced on main roads and a full consultation will take place before any pilot scheme is implemented. Two to three schools will be invited to take part and the pilots will run for 18 months.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “It’s about us working together to explore all options that can reduce children’s exposure to air pollution.

“We all saw from the recent Climate Change strikes how passionate our schoolchildren are about improving the world around them and we, as a county council, are determined to deliver a cleaner and healthier future.”

In 2017 the east London borough of Hackney developed a blueprint for restricting traffic outside schools at opening and closing times.

Seven schools are participating and since the launch of ‘School Streets’, the proportion of children cycling to school has increased by more than 50 per cent, with traffic outside the school gates reducing by around two-thirds.

‘School Streets’ projects have also been a success in Solihull and Edinburgh, with traffic flows reduced and plans in place to expand the schemes.

WOW helping to create healthy habits for a lifetime

Oxfordshire County Council is already working in partnership with schools, communities, business and district council partners to make villages, towns and Oxford city healthier places to live.

WOW, the year-round walk to school programme commissioned by Public Health, encourages children to collect badges each month as a reward for making journeys actively.

Since its launch in 2017, active travel rates in participating schools – including walking, cycling, scooting or ‘park and stride’ – have risen from 65 per cent to 88 per cent.

Based on a typical return ‘school run’ of two miles for the entire journey between home and school, travelling at 30mph on urban roads, the WOW programme reduced emissions as follows:

  • NOx: 727.5g per day across Oxfordshire or 40.4g per participating school
  • PM2.5: 41.2g per day across Oxfordshire or 2.29g per participating school
  • CO2: 276.8Kg per day across Oxfordshire or 15.4Kg per participating school

Mr Hudspeth said: “WOW has already been a huge success in helping to reduce congestion, improving wellbeing and creating healthy habits for a lifetime. Anything that helps to further improve safety and reduce air pollution should be supported.

“The first task is to find out which schools are interested and then we will need to work closely with local communities to ensure the pilot projects are effectively enforced.

“We will continue to explore other options to improve the wellbeing of schoolchildren by the school gates and are already in the process of advertising for more lollipop people to make school routes as safe as possible.”

Schools Tackling Oxford’s Air Pollution (STOP)

Schools Tackling Oxford's Air Pollution (STOP) is an Oxford City Council project which aims to raise awareness of the main sources and health effects of air pollution emissions among the school community.

Schools are able to download an air quality toolkit which has been created by the city council. The toolkit, which has been written to fit within schools’ existing science curriculums, provides science teachers in Oxford with a range of interactive activities, based both in the classroom and outdoors.

STOP has also provided air quality monitoring equipment to six schools across Oxford, alongside technical support, to enable students and pupils to measure pollution levels.

Cllr Louise Upton, city council Cabinet member for Healthy Oxford, and the city’s Cycling Champion, said: “School Streets, STOP and WOW are about two important things. One is air quality – the air filling our children’s lungs is harming them. We must change that by keeping traffic away from schools.

“By giving children the tools to track pollution levels around them, they become the strongest advocates for changing the behaviour of their parents.

“Secondly, it is about getting your daily dose of exercise which is so important for physical and mental health. By closing the streets around schools we can make a walk or cycle to school the obvious and, crucially, safe choice for parents and children.

“I am delighted that across the county we are taking steps to improve the health of our next generation and the planet.”

Clean Air Day new 1

‘We can’t just sit back and say it’s nothing to do with us’

One of those schools signed up to WOW and STOP is Windmill Primary in East Oxford. Each class has its own eco representatives and pupils will be in Bonn Square on Clean Air Day promoting the clean air message using posters and leaflets.

So far this academic year it is estimated WOW has led to a 17% fall in car trips to the school – a reduction of 999 car journeys or six cars per day. Assuming a four-mile round trip, emissions were reduced by:

  • NOx 13.6g per day
  • PM2.5 0.77g per day
  • CO2 5.2Kg per day

Headteacher Lynn Knapp said pupils and parents were already committed to making a difference outside the school gates.

She said: “We have to make a stand and as headteacher I feel a responsibility to ensure we’re making the right choices to protect the planet for future generations.

“We can’t just sit back and say it’s nothing to do with us and our new curriculum places a lot of emphasis on global and environmental change.”

Year 3 pupil Jenny Baxter, seven, said: “We tested different places around the school and found there was more pollution outside the front where there’s traffic. That’s really bad for anyone with asthma and other people might get lung disease.”

Year 4 pupil Olivia McDermott, eight, said: “I would make everyone walk, cycle or scoot to school to help the environment. We have to do something.”

Year 4 pupil Greta Callaghan, nine, said: “It’s our future and we need people to listen because otherwise we won’t have any world to live in. We need to be active now and stop using cars that produce CO2 gases.”

Year 4 pupil Nikhil Basuray, nine, said: “We need the environment to survive for us to survive. It’s not good to have your engine on when you’re not moving because it’s a waste of energy and causes more pollution.”

District councils urge drivers to ‘Turn it off’

Cllr David Rouane, South Oxfordshire District Councillor cabinet member for housing and environment, said: “We have launched a joint campaign with Vale of White Horse District Council to help improve air quality across southern Oxfordshire called ‘Turn it off’ which is aimed at drivers who leave their engines idling.”

Cllr Jenny Hannaby, Vale of White Horse District Council cabinet member for environmental and technical services, said: “Idling produces so much unnecessary pollution, so both councils are trying to encourage people to take the simple step of turning off the engine when it’s not being driven. This can make such a difference to our air and our health.”

The campaign, endorsed by Public Health England, is aimed at drivers who leave their engines ‘idling’ - still running even when the vehicle is not moving.

The councils will be promoting the campaign on Clean Air Day at a stall at Henley Market (10am-midday) and at Old Station Yard, next to Stert St in Abingdon (2.30pm-4.30pm). Read more here www.southandvale.gov.uk/turnitoff

It’s an accident waiting to happen’

Willowcroft Community School in Didcot also supports the WOW scheme and is keen to further reduce traffic flow outside the school gates.

Assistant headteacher Jodie Brown said Mereland Road was often flooded with cars and an accident waiting to happen at the start and end of the school day.

“We’ve even had to close the school car park because it was getting so unsafe. A member of our Senior Leadership Team and the caretaker are out there every day keeping an eye on the traffic,” she said.

“Our pupils are very supportive of WOW and know all about the need to reduce air pollution. More children are now walking to school and they love the badges. We would just like more parents on board.”

This academic year it is estimated WOW has led to a 22% fall in car trips to the school – a reduction of 8,968 car journeys or 56 cars per day. Assuming a four-mile round trip, emissions were reduced by:

  • NOx 126.8g avoided per day
  • PM2.5 7.21g avoided per day
  • CO2 48.3Kg avoided per day

Year 5 pupil Esther Hedley, nine, said: “It’s really important to lead the way to save the planet. Somebody needs to start it off so others follow.”

Year 6 pupil Ares Papadopoulos, 11, said: “It’s bad that there’s a lot of cars because the plastic from the tyres makes small particles and you end up breathing them. Then that gets in your blood stream and you get heart disease and lung cancer.”

Year 5 pupil George Higginson, 10, said: “I’ve got eight badges for walking to school at least once a week. I like to do it because it stops air pollution from happening.”

Year 6 pupil Lilly-Ella Bedwell, 11, said: “It’s good to walk to school because you can get fresh air and it stops polluting air. It would be good if more people walked because then it would feel safer.”

The Oxfordshire Schools Clean Air Network seminar will feature speakers including Chris Church, from Oxford Friends of the Earth; Jake Bakus, from OxAir; Pedro Abreu from Oxford City Council’s STOP project; and Richard Kuziara, from the county council’s Public Health team.

Schools seeking more information on how to sign up to WOW should contact Sarah Ellis at Living Streets. Email her at sarah.ellis@livingstreets.org.uk