Drivers are being urged not to leave their car engines running – known as idling – when parked outside schools.

Lindley Liberal Democrat councillors Cahal Burke and Anthony Smith say many people are unaware that keeping the engine running – for such as the heater or air conditioning – can contribute to “toxic air” where children gather.

Idling is a problem, the councillors say, because an idling engine can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion, resulting in the release of noxious emissions and unnecessary particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

The fumes released from idling vehicles contribute to air pollution. As well as having a negative effect on the environment, the chemicals are linked to respiratory issues and can contribute to asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

Alarmingly, recent studies by children’s charity Unicef have estimated that around one in three children in the UK grow up breathing unsafe levels of air pollution, while a recent poll by French car maker Renault revealed that 27% of the 4,000 parents it studied admitted to leaving their engines idling during the school run.

Clr Burke said: “Many schools – in Lindley and across Kirklees – are subject to damaging levels of vehicle emissions. We know that children tend to spend time outside, where concentrations of air pollution from traffic are generally higher.

“This is a real problem, as we know that toxic air disproportionately impacts children, who are vulnerable, as their bodies are still growing and going through periods of critical development.

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“Cutting air pollution outside schools is vital and I believe that a significant way to help achieve this is by cutting out idling. It’s a small, but an important step which would make a real difference.

“Cutting out idling would improve air quality but it would also help the environment, by reducing harmful CO2 emissions.

“Cutting out idling and reducing air pollution could also benefit schoolchildren’s education. Modelling by the University of Manchester and charities Global Action Plan and the Philips Foundation, for instance, show that cutting air pollution levels by only 20% could improve children’s ability to learn by up to one month each year.”

The School run outside Lindley Junior School, George Street, Lindley

Clr Burke also believes that Kirklees Council can do more to tackle the issue of idling outside schools and said: “Many local authorities are taking action to deal with idling.

“For instance, Bradford Council launched the ‘We Care About Clean Air’ campaign to raise awareness of the harmful impact of air pollution on children’s health, promoting ‘no idling’ outside school gates and encouraging parents to leave the car at home and walk, cycle or take the bus to school with the children, wherever possible.

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“Enforcement is also an important measure in dealing with idling. For instance, Central Bedfordshire Council adopted new legal powers and can issue fixed penalty notices to hand to drivers who let their vehicle idle and refuse to switch it off.

“However, my view is that changing behaviour by raising awareness of the issue is much more effective than issuing fines.”

His colleague, Clr Smith, said: “I believe that a lot of drivers are not aware that by leaving their engine running – for convenience or to keep the heater or air conditioner running – that they are contributing to harmful particle emissions.

“It’s a problem everywhere but we want to draw particular attention to the issue of idling outside schools, which is damaging to the health of children.

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“I think many road users might also be unaware that stationary idling is also an offence and that those who are found guilty can be fined. It’s been an offence in the UK since 1986.

“It is very much in the driver’s interest to turn their vehicle’s engine off. By leaving an engine running, drivers use more petrol and cause more engine wear than switching the engine off and on again after a few minutes.

“As councillors, we believe that the best way of dealing with the issue of vehicle idling is by raising public awareness about the issue. We are working with the local schools and with officers at Kirklees Council to respond to the issue and to raise awareness.

“One simple way of drawing attention to the issue is through ‘no-idling’ lamp post signs outside schools and we have asked officers to consider whether this would be possible.

“We are also aware that the council is currently exploring the potential impact of idling policies in the future and is working with partners to promote low-emission transport practices, potentially including anti-idling.”

Cahal Burke and Anthony Smith

Councillors Burke and Smith have previously campaigned on the issue of air pollution outside schools and have proposed pilot schemes to improve air pollution and reduce congestion in the Lindley ward, including restricting motorised traffic on George Street – the location of Lindley CE Infants and Lindley Junior School.

As part of the pilot scheme, George Street would be closed to all non-essential motor vehicles during Friday morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up hours, although cyclists, blue badge holders and emergency vehicles would all be permitted to continue to use the road during the restricted hours, while residents living on George Street would be issued with permits, exempting them from the restrictions.

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Kirklees Liberal Democrat group have also raised the issue of air pollution outside schools and successfully passed a motion at the full council meeting in January 2020.

The motion asked the council to engage with local schools to design and deliver air pollution campaigns, promote vehicle ‘no idling’ zones and also to consider pilot schemes to tackle air pollution outside schools, including schemes such as ‘Street Play’ and ‘Car Free School Streets’, which enables local authorities to use existing powers to allow temporary road closures outside schools.

In 2019, the Liberal Democrat party’s climate change spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, put forward a Private Member’s Bill to increase penalties for stationary vehicle idling offences and grant local authorities increased powers to issue penalties.

While some councils are issuing fines to drivers, the legislation to enable this is hard to enforce in practice. The Bill, however, failed to complete its passage through Parliament.