Greater Manchester’s deadly air pollution crisis is worse than London’s, new research has warned – but local leaders have failed to wake up to its killer consequences.
A report by think-tank IPPR North, using research by Kings College London, argues that in order to cut pollution in the region to legal levels, traffic will have to be restricted into the city centre or some kind of clean air zone charging introduced ‘in the immediate future’.
But it finds local strategies and leaders have failed, so far, to recognise the urgency of the situation.
Central Manchester has the highest rate of hospital admissions for asthma in the country, finds the report, followed by North Manchester.
It links the prevalence of the condition to tiny, invisible polluting particles emitted by vehicles – including buses, of which Greater Manchester has some of the dirtiest in the country.
The report, called Atmosphere, concludes that 1.6m ‘life years’ will be lost to people living in the conurbation over the coming century unless urgent action is taken, while air pollution is costing the local economy £1bn annually.
It calls on Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to set up a taskforce looking at air pollution levels – described in the report as an ‘invisible killer’ – as well as looking at the state of the region’s highly polluting bus fleet.
Pointing to the World Health Organisation’s list of most polluted UK towns and cities – which has London in 22nd place but Manchester at 2nd, behind Scunthorpe – it says too little attention has been paid to the issue here so far.
“While so much attention is given to air pollution in London, Greater Manchester in fact has the highest rates of emergency admissions to hospital for asthma in the whole country – Central Manchester and North Manchester NHS trusts have emergency admissions at double the national average,” it says.
“And evidence shows that the most vulnerable people and those living in disadvantaged areas are at greater risk from air pollution.”
The report argues local politicians have not woken up to the scale of the situation, adding: “Although government and the Greater Manchester combined authority recognises the general problem and is taking incremental steps to be legally compliant, there is little recognition of the scale or urgency of Greater Manchester’s crisis.”
Three out of five sites in Greater Manchester currently monitoring ‘PM25’ pollution – a type of deadly particle emitted through exhaust fumes, linked to lung disease – are recording illegally high levels, it finds.
Meanwhile nine out of ten council areas exceed the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, another deadly pollutant. While nationally levels have been falling, in Greater Manchester they have remained static.
The report says government modelling of pollution on major roads has been flawed, while Greater Manchester’s own clean air plan is focusing too much on a handful of congested blackspots.
Its own analysis suggests the problem is in fact widespread across the city as a whole.
Greater Manchester’s low emissions strategy is described as ‘too little too late’, with IPPR arguing it will in fact do little to cut nitrogen dioxide levels.
“Even to achieve legal compliance Greater Manchester will need to begin restricting access to the city centre or introducing some form of charging clean air zone in the immediate future,” it says.
“But legal compliance alone will do little to save many lives and reduce the costs to the public purse and the wider economy.”
It also points out a fifth of the region’s buses fall into the most polluting category, compared to 12pc in London.
“In London 37pc of all buses are electric or meet Euro 6 standards, in Greater Manchester this is just 10pc,” it adds.
The report calls for Andy Burnham to speed up his plans to cut air pollution – a feature of his 2017 mayoral campaign – by introducing charging zones for buses and HGVs by next summer, as well as a ‘workplace parking levy’ for businesses whose employees drive into town.
It also calls on government to provide a new devolution deal on air quality, a national diesel scrappage scheme and more targeted monitoring of the impacts of air pollution.
Mr Burnham should set up a taskforce to look at the issue straight away, it warns.
Sarah Longlands, director of IPPR North, said: “The human cost of this air pollution crisis to Greater Manchester cannot be overstated.
“People’s lives are being cut short, our children’s health is being put at risk and this is before you even consider the £1bn annual economic burden that poor quality air places on the local economy.
“For too long, the debate on air pollution has been focused on London. But now for the first time, we understand the full extent of the problem in Greater Manchester. We simply cannot allow this to continue.
“There must be no delay. We need to see immediate and ambitious action from government and from local leaders, including a Greater Manchester Clean Air Devolution Deal, as part of a Clean Air Fund and diesel scrappage scheme.”