A radical and innovative new policy to get parents to turn off their engines when they are waiting to pick them up from school has been launched today – World Clean Air Day.

Signs are being installed across schools in Sheffield which warn that parents could face fines for leaving their cars running – and choke the environment for others, particularly during pick-up and drop-off times.

Sheffield is one of the first places to introduce the policy outside of London. It is one of a number of air quality measures set to be announced and consulted on to improve the city’s air quality.

It is likely that the new policy, set to be signed off by Cabinet Member for Transport and Development Jack Scott this month, will be through the issuing of fixed penalty notices. Enforcement will start when schools return in September this year, with the top 20 schools that are in areas of highest air pollution being targeted.

Speaking at Hunter Bar Infant School today Councillor Scott said:

These signs are a great step forward in our bid to make Sheffield fairer, cleaner and greener. Launching this on world clean air day is a statement of intent and sign of my determination to Sheffield and its people – we will do everything we can to make Sheffield’s air safe for everyone.

As a parent, I’m all too aware of the people who leave their engines running at the school gates. This is so damaging to the environment outside schools. Air pollution tends to gather about a metre from the ground, so children are particularly vulnerable.

Of course we’d prefer people to choose walk or bike to schools wherever possible. But we must take steps to reduce air pollution and this policy is a bold step in addressing the issues faced by cities like ours.

Our children are most exposed to toxic air and it can affect their lungs for life – so I want to urge parents that if you do pick up and drop off your children by car, please don’t leave the engine running while you wait.  It’s bad for them, their classmates and it’s bad for you.

We also know there are even bigger challenges in the near future. We have to pick up where the government has failed to take real action. It’s possible that they will require Sheffield to introduce fines and charges. The scheme we are launching today will help to make our air cleaner, greener and safer for everyone.

No idling engines scheme sign
Launching the ‘no idling engines’ awareness scheme (L-R) Jack Scott Cabinet Member for Transport and Development, pupils James Green and Cherry Sway of Hunters Bar School Eco Club and head teacher Catherine Carr.

Catherine Carr, Head teacher at Hunters Bar, said:

Fortunately, we are not located in one of the areas of highest pollution however we’re proud to be regarded as an eco-school which has been supporting wider city initiatives such as Active Travel and Air Aware. We know many of our parents drive to school and that’s why we’re planning to invest in many new innovations such as a Green Screen which improves the environment for our children.

We are delighted to support the Air Aware Campaign and have applied for new signage at the school to complement all the other work we are doing to improve the environment for our brilliant pupils.

Sheffield City Council launched a new consultation to tackle poor air quality across the city last year. A separate green city consultation attracted more than 7,000 replies.

The consultation asked whether the Council should introduce a scheme to enforce drivers that leave their engines running outside schools – the vast majority of people backed the move.

Sheffield City Council’s Air Aware campaign has been saying for some time “Switch off when you drop off” to parents if they take their children to school by car and has given head teachers the opportunity to have a free banner outside their school to really push that message.

The new anti-idling measures are part of a range of actions taken by the council in recent months.

The council is working on an ambitious shortlist of options which will work for Sheffield that will have a rapid impact on the quality of the air we breathe – and we expect government to support our proposals with the cash to make the air safe for all Sheffielders.

Our Clean Air Strategy sits right alongside our Transport Strategy which shows that we want to make the big changes to make Sheffield easier to get around with cleaner, more reliable journeys and supporting people to walk and cycle more.

The data we have show that we have a significant problem across the city’s major road networks so the type of action that we need to take will involve big changes in terms of roads and the vehicles on them but it also needs all Sheffielders to do all they can to help clean the air in their community.

The council is also working with the bus companies to have a cleaner bus stock and earlier this year announced that £1.9m will be invested to retrofit 117 buses across the Sheffield network with emission reduction technology.

Once upgraded, the buses will produce less nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions per kilometre than many types of modern car. The retrofit will reduce NOx emissions of buses to Euro VI standard, complying with standards set out in the council’s own ambitious Clean Air Strategy.

We are also working jointly with Rotherham as the clean air issue doesn’t just stop at the local authority boundary. Sheffield and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils are undertaking a joint Clean Air Zone feasibility study with the results expected later this year.