By Legal Futures Associate Redbrick Solutions
Poor air quality is arguably the most significant environmental risk to the health of our nation, with some 40,000 deaths per annum attributable to pollution from motor vehicles and industry. This has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic where respiratory vulnerability has been a key driver of fatalities. Given that we are now spending much more time at home, air quality is quickly becoming one of the more critical factors in deciding where to live.
In recent years, air pollution levels have exceeded safe EU limits on many occasions, affecting those who are especially sensitive like asthma or COPD sufferers. There are many notorious high-risk areas across the UK that with a combination of high traffic levels and still weather conditions can lead to dangerous exposure to pollutants. There is also improved scientific research on how fine particulate matter (PM) can get into the bloodstream and can accelerate dementia.
The clean air of lockdown
The first lockdown of March-June 2020 showed how quickly things can change. With vehicles off the road and aircraft removed, air pollution levels plummeted, and the world felt cleaner, quieter, and calmer. It clearly proved the benefits of cutting back on road transport journeys.
Air quality monitoring identified a 40% reduction in pollution levels after just a week of lockdown. Forward projections had this kind of reduction by 2030-2035 at the earliest.
Post-Covid health risk
However, the pandemic also showed the double impact of greater vulnerability in areas typically affected by poor air quality.
Research has found that a small rise in long-term exposure to air pollution was associated with an 11% increase in deaths from Covid-19. Breathing dirty air over years is already known to cause heart and lung disease, and these illnesses are known to make coronavirus infections worse.
Now that traffic is back to around 75% of pre-pandemic levels and with an estimated 1 million “Long Covid” sufferers, there is a growing cohort of people where poor air quality has suddenly become a more pressing issue.
Although many companies are now taking a more hybrid approach to office and home working practices; heavy goods, trade and school run traffic remain a constant, and in certain congested locations there is very little change or improvement in air quality. There also remains a reluctance to use public transport, especially at peak times, which puts more vehicles back on the road.
Finding clean air?
For homebuyers, we are seeing a clear trend to look away from city centres for more green space and room to work from home. But, for those who don’t have the choice or need to be near their place of work, what information can be easily obtained by legal and property professionals to safeguard them?
Increasingly, understanding local air quality is becoming recognised as equal to other environmental issues such as flood risk and land contamination, when buying a home. Many conveyancers are choosing to highlight air quality as a factor which could impact their client’s quiet enjoyment of the home.
For these important reasons, Future Climate Info (FCI) took the pioneering decision to add Earthsense’s MappAir® air quality data to its environmental search reports in early 2018. This provides homebuyers with an indication of annual mean air pollution, based on levels of PM2.5 particulate matter and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) to a resolution of 100 metres.
This provides far greater insight than reliance on whether a property lies within a Local Authority Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), which tend to be isolated areas in the city centres and towns.
Having sight of this data and insight enables homebuyers to consider their options and, whether in an urban or countryside setting, to enter into a transaction with their eyes wide open.
Young families at high risk
How we as consumers choose to buy homes will be increasingly influenced by air quality data, traffic impacts and how they are managed. But choosing schools can be the biggest determinant for young families. The first consideration is squeezing into the catchment which can attract a premium, but it may have a sting in its tail if that also suffers from poor air quality. Children can breathe in up to three times more air relative to their weight. This means they take in a greater volume of air pollution, which can stunt lung growth and increase their risk of respiratory disease.
Ella Kissi-Debrah, who suffered from asthma and walked to school every day along the South Circular Road, was the first child declared to have air pollution listed as a contributory cause to her death after an historic high court judgement.
Who will guide the client?
As part of their research, home hunters should not just look at price, features, and space. If the house is on a busy main road, will they have to invest in insulation, better windows, and air filtration? Or could they save by moving one or two streets back where the air quality is much better?
Right now, with a limited supply of properties for sale, there is a very real risk that this vital information could get overlooked, only for issues to be discovered later.
Aside from the potential physical and mental impacts of poor air quality in residential areas, the future may also see the financial impacts on homeowners should the value of their home falter if air quality deteriorates further. This could affect the desirability and value of a home in the eyes of lenders, valuers and prospective buyers alike.
FCI introduced air quality into their searches to help homebuyers make informed decisions about their future. They remain the only environmental search provider to include this as standard. FCI searches, available via Redbrick’s conveyancing case management solution, offer conveyancers a robust mechanism to provide this insight quickly and easily to clients via their existing search bundles, without having to obtain additional searches or increase their workload.
For more information about Redbrick Solutions products and services, please contact email@example.com or call 01572 770088.
Join our webinar
Register for our FREE webinar exploring Air Quality – the next challenge for the property market on Tuesday 15 February 2022 at 11.00am.