MPs have called for a ban on building schools and health clinics near busy roads.
The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said planning rules should be changed to outlaw creation of certain public buildings in pollution hotspots.
The UK government was last month ordered by the European Court of Justice to cut air pollution as soon as possible. The country missed EU nitrogen dioxide targets in 40 out of 43 zones in 2010, and the EAC said air pollution cost the lives of 29,000 people every year.
In a report published this morning, the Committee said: “The National Planning Policy Framework should make it impossible to build new schools, care homes or health clinics near existing air pollution hotspots, and any redevelopment of such existing buildings should only be approved if it reduces pollution exposure for their users.
“Building regulations should provide for existing schools sited near pollution hotspots to be fitted with air filtration systems.”
The report also called for a specific clause in the Infrastructure Bill to ensure the reformed Highways Agency has a legal duty to protect air quality. It added that the Airports Commission charged with recommending a solution to the South East’s air capacity crisis should have a stated air quality objective.
EAC chair Joan Walley said: “It is unacceptable that another generation of young people growing up in our towns and cities could have their health seriously impaired by illegal air pollution before the government brings this public health crisis under control.
“Children growing up near busy roads with high NO2 and particle emissions have stunted and impaired lung development. There is also emerging evidence that air pollution can increase infant mortality rates, prompt pre-term births and affect cognitive performance.
“Well over 1,000 schools around the country are 150m away from major roads. Protecting children and vulnerable people in the worst affected areas must be made a priority by the government and local authorities.”