AIR pollution in Exeter regularly exceeds international limits, causing increased risks of heart and lung disease, strokes and cancer, it’s been claimed by a Green Party councillor.

Despite some disputes about the numbers, the city council has decided not to back a proposed campaign to stop drivers from sitting in stationary cars with their engines running.

Idling vehicles create poisonous gases, leading members of the Green Party on the council to ask colleagues to back an initiative aimed at stopping idling.

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that 40,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution, with engine idling contributing to the death toll.

Cllr Andy Ketchin (Green, Newtown and St Leonard’s) urged the council to back him, saying: “This will protect the most vulnerable people in the city – the children at the school gates and the elderly in public spaces.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Tess Read (Green, St David’s) said fumes from car exhausts were a “silent killer”. 

Earlier in the meeting, councillors had been told that busy East Wonford Hill was an air pollution hotspot.

Cllr Ketchin put forward a motion calling on the council to develop an anti-idling campaign including an “Engines Off” pledge for drivers and signs near schools and other hotspots.

He claimed air pollution in parts of the city regularly exceeds World Health Organisation limits for nitrogen dioxide, and much of the pollution comes from vehicles. 

By contrast, figures from Devon County Council presented to an Exeter Chamber of Commerce event recently show nitrogen dioxide limits have only been breached once in 2023, down from 32 occasions in 2009.

“The effort to make change is worth it,” said Cllr Ketchin. 

“This is not re-inventing the wheel - It’s a well-tested model - let’s get busy.”

He also stressed that the campaign was not aimed at people who had their engines running while simply stuck in traffic jams.

Cllr Read said many drivers sitting in their cars outside schools with the engines running had no idea of the harm they were causing. 

“Exeter is ‘behind the curve’, she said, and other councils around the country had launched similar campaigns.”

But Cllr Bob Foale (Labour, Alphington) said he doubted if the campaign would do anything to cut emissions, and would not be a good use of resources.

The motion was defeated by 23 votes to six.

Guy Henderson