Andy Burnham has promised a major drive to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in Greater Manchester if elected as Mayor in May.
The most recent data from the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs shows Greater Manchester has been in breach of its legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant caused by road traffic, in every year since 2011. Although some areas are more badly affected than others, the breach is based on an annual average worked out from data collected from monitoring stations across the whole of Greater Manchester.
The main effect of breathing in unsafe levels of the colourless gas is the increased risk of respiratory problems. Experts say nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, and can cause wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis, as well as more serious health problems.
Figures, obtained by Burnham, show last year more than 64,000 people were admitted to hospital in Greater Manchester with respiratory problems – a 26 per cent increase on 2010 - and amongst them over 14,000 children under the age of four.
Burnham has criticised the Government's decision to exclude Greater Manchester from its list of places receiving support to tackle air pollution.
The Government was recently taken to the High Court by ‘Client Earth’ over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK. The court heard that Greater Manchester was one of the areas originally slated to receive Government support to improve air quality. But, in the final plans, that support was denied, despite the region being one of the most polluted areas in the country.
Instead London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton, Cardiff and Derby were all prioritised for Clean Air Zones.
Burnham has written to the Prime Minister Theresa May to demand Greater Manchester’s new Mayor is given urgent support to improve air quality, including having the powers to introduce a Clean Air Zone.
A Clean Air Zone can stop the most polluting vehicles from entering areas with the worst air quality. Burnham has said, if given the powers, he will focus on high-polluting vehicles, such as HGVSs, and seek to cover areas where people who are most vulnerable to air pollution might be, such as schools.
Other ideas under consideration by Burnham for a Clean Air Action Plan include:
- mandating cleaner buses using new powers to regulate bus services
- investing in new cycle lanes to give people a real alternative to using their cars
- issuing clear information about pollution levels - including public health alerts during periods of high pollution - so that people can take action to avoid the worst-affected areas.
Burnham has also said the controversial Greater Manchester Spatial Framework needs a substantial rewrite to enhance air quality in the future. Traffic congestion is one of the main causes of poor air quality and there is concern that the current Spatial Framework will exacerbate it. The revised plan needs to focus more on reducing congestion and protecting green-space.
Ministers have previously suggested that Greater Manchester could be liable to face fines if it doesn’t clean up its air. Part 2 of the Localism Act gives ministers the powers to require local areas to pay fines for not meeting safe air quality levels.
Andy Burnham said:
"People across Greater Manchester will be shocked to learn that for years they have been breathing in air that is so polluted it is classed as illegal. In places, air quality is so poor that it could be damaging their health. There have been huge increases in people admitted to local hospitals with breathing problems.
"Polluted air is an invisible killer and Greater Manchester needs a wake-up call to what is a growing public health emergency.
"If I am elected in May, I will immediately initiate a major new drive to clean up our filthy air. And I am today calling on the Government to give the Greater Manchester Mayor the powers to act. We need to have the ability to introduce a Clean Air Zone so we can protect children and those most vulnerable from the high-polluting vehicles. But we also need a broader plan to reduce congestion, increase cycling and make public transport a clean, reliable and affordable alternative to the car."