‘Tunnels’ plan for pollution problems

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Tunnels could be used to cover motorways and keep communities safe from dangerous levels of pollution, Highways England has announced, days after it emerged five major roads in Leeds are set to breach legal pollution limits.

Protective canopies could be built around the country’s busiest roads to soak up fumes, the company’s air quality strategy report has said.

The document states that Highways England is “investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours”.

It comes days after a study by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) identified 81 stretches of road - with five in Leeds including the A58, A643, A61, A58M and M621 - where urgent action was needed to prevent illegally high levels of pollution.

The Government plan, suggesting authorities could impose charges to cut down on harmful emissions, also announced additional funds to assist with their development of council strategies.

Now, after trialling a physical barrier to pollution in 2015, Highways England has revealed it is running tests on a material that can clean the air.

If this trial proves successful, it said it would consider implementing such barriers across its network of England’s motorways and major A-roads.

A Highways England spokesman said: “The best solution to accommodating the extra traffic on our roads without negatively impacting on air quality is cleaner, low-emission vehicles.

“In the meantime, we are investing £100m to test new ideas including less-polluting fuels and road barriers which can absorb harmful emissions.”

Air pollution is linked to around 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.