A new report has issued a warning over the rise in air pollution - with parts of Essex being among the worst affected.
The new report for the Centre for Cities says despite a fall in pollutants during the Spring - caused by lockdown measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 - levels now exceed pre-pandemic levels in 80% of the country.
And the new report warns that local authorities must not delay measures to prevent air quality significantly worsening next year, such as ensuring public transport, cycling and walking are encouraged over car usage.
Towns in our region have already begun to explore doing just that.
Stevenage, Letchworth and Royston look set to become the first 'sustainable travel towns' in Hertfordshire. Under the Sustainable Travel Towns. A detailed action plan is being worked on.
The new analysis shows that, while the spring lockdown reduced NO2 levels by 38% on average across 49 cities and large towns, they rose again in the second half of the year as activity increased.Southend, along with cities such as Barnsley, Bournemouth and Portsmouth, had NO2 levels in September which were already even higher than they were before the spring lockdown.Private vehicle usage is the main generator of toxic air: pollution has increased since May in line with the return of private cars to the road. Meanwhile, public transport usage has remained low.
Centre for Cities' Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:"Toxic air has contributed to the deaths of thousands of Covid-19 victims this year and, even after the pandemic ends, will remain a big threat to health - particularly for those living in urban areas.
City leaders can reduce threat of air pollution, but it will take political will. Discouraging car usage will be unpopular in the short-term but, if coupled with the necessary improvements to public transport, the long-term benefits to public health and the economy will be huge and our cities will become better places to live. Now is not the time for politicians to delay on this.
The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air's Data Lead Hubert Thieriot said:"The role of transportation in UK cities' air pollution has become apparent to everyone during the COVID-related lockdowns. That shared awareness offers policy makers an historical chance to implement bold transportation policies, as many other cities overseas have shown."