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Sweeping the ‘Chimney’: Cleaner Air for Greater Manchester

Back in the 19th Century, our region was described as the ‘Chimney of the World’. The industry that brought Greater Manchester to global prominence also brought a huge amount of pollution, which damaged people’s health and made the skies go dark at midday.

Thankfully, today things have changed, and pollution levels in Greater Manchester are much lower - but not low enough.

Last week The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published draft guidance to improve England’s air quality and I welcome their intervention: poor air quality contributes to the early deaths of thousands of people each year across our region. This has to change.

Greater Manchester is already working hard to reduce our pollution levels and with the publication of our Low-Emission Strategy and Air Quality Action Plan, we are clear about what needs to happen to tackle poor air quality and harmful emissions.

A key part of the solution is to move people away from polluting modes of transport, by making our public transport system cleaner and encouraging people to utilise electric vehicles, take more trips by public transport, bicycle and on foot.

Our growing Metrolink system is leading the way, with trams which produce zero emissions on our streets. We have also invested in cycling provision across the region and have lobbied Government to act more quickly to renew and electrify some of our key rail lines.

There’s more to do locally, but we must not forget that central Government has an important role to play. If we are really to make an impact in reducing air pollution, Government needs to give cities the levers and resources to invest in and develop cleaner and greener forms of public transport.

But cleaner transport will not have the impact we need if it is not accompanied by a plan for homes and jobs across our region.That’s where the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) comes in. The GMSF sets out the best places for our region to grow; places where we can provide the infrastructure for clean public transport and high quality green spaces to help our city region breathe.

It’s not just about homes though: the siting of businesses is also key to improving air quality in Greater Manchester. By emphasising the release of a relatively small number of large sites rather than widespread and unmanaged growth across Greater Manchester, we are encouraging development in places which are easily accessible by public transport or can be made accessible through our transport investments. This will ensure that we can reduce the pollution caused by workers commuting. What’s more, by siting developments carefully, we can encourage the movement of freight by rail and water. Together, these measures will have a real impact on our air quality.

Indeed, the GMSF is as much about protecting our environment as it is about new development with more policies dedicated to the environment than any other issue. We are lucky in Greater Manchester to have a range of ecosystems within our region, many of which clean our air, like bogs and woodland. The GMSF will protect these habitats from development and ensure that their beneficial impact upon our air quality is preserved for years to come.

The current levels of air pollution cannot be allowed to continue, and we owe it to everyone in Greater Manchester to ensure our air is safe to breathe. By having a plan we can take action and manage growth.

Our Spatial Framework will protect the land and enhance the air of our region – in Greater Manchester, we’re acting on air quality now.

We want to know your views on the first draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, so please tell us what you think here. 


Main image: Old Ship Canal by Tom Blackwell acquired with a Creative Commons license.