According to a report published this week, 152 stretches of road in Greater Manchester will still be in breach of legal limits for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) beyond 2020 unless action is taken – 14 times as many as previously feared.
A July 2017 study by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) predicted that 11 stretches of the region’s roads would be over the legal limit of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air by the end of 2020. However, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) concludes that the problem is likely to be far, far worse.
You can see the roads likely to be in breach of the threshold on an interactive map here.
GMCA says that the reasons for the increase are because vehicles using Greater Manchester’s roads are typically older than the national average (especially buses and taxis); that local traffic data showed that in some areas vehicles are moving more slowly than the national modelling anticipated; and because local modelling also showed higher background concentrations of NO2.
Motor traffic causes 80 per cent of NO2 emissions at the roadside – mainly from diesel vehicles.
In June, the city announced plans for the UK's biggest network of cycling and walking routes, but Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is working with the 10 Greater Manchester councils to produce a Clean Air Plan and a host of other measures are also up for consideration.
These include: increasing public transport capacity; upgrading or retrofitting the public transport fleet to run on cleaner engines; increasing the use of electric vehicles by expanding the electric charging point network or through financial incentives; better traffic management; encouraging use of alternative fuels; and potentially introducing Clean Air Zones, where the most polluting vehicles would attract a penalty payment.
Chris Boardman – now Greater Manchester’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner – has previously referred to the number of deaths linked to NO2 as a “national emergency” and a “full-blown crisis.”
Councillor Alex Ganotis, GMCA Green City Region Lead, said: “Nitrogen dioxide is an invisible killer, and drivers and their passengers often don’t realise that the air inside their car can be dirtier than outside.
“We can all make small changes to help clean up our air. For example, driving less and walking or cycling more can help reduce your exposure to air pollution and also cut emissions. We’re looking at ways to help more people do this.
“But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact this is a looming public health crisis which needs urgent national action. We’re calling on Government to give Greater Manchester the tools we need to tackle the problem together – this means a local vehicle scrappage scheme and funding for cleaner engines for buses and taxis.
“In developing our Clean Air Plan, Greater Manchester is following a strictly defined process set out by Government to run feasibility studies on potential NO2 air pollution compliance measures.
“I want to be clear that a congestion charge is not being considered as part of this process. But we do have to consider how we ensure that dirty vehicles are not polluting our air. This is a major public health problem for Greater Manchester.
“Government must also act to make sure Highways England, which runs the motorway network around Greater Manchester, tackles air pollution on and near our motorways.”