Air quality high on agenda in Greater Manchester

Air quality  high on agenda in Greater Manchester Greater Manchester interim mayor Tony Lloyd.

Greater Manchester interim mayor Tony Lloyd has launched a public consultation on tackling air pollution which he describes as a serious issue which contributes to the premature deaths of thousands of people each year.

A draft Greater Manchester Low Emission Strategy and Air Quality Action Plan contains a range of proposals aimed at improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions from transport in the city region.

The consultation is being carried out by Transport for Greater Manchester on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The proposals are focused on what are termed ‘key priority areas’ in urban centres and near major roads which currently fail to meet UK government and EU air quality objectives.

Among the proposals is upgrading and renewing the bus fleet and trialling ultra-low-emission buses and increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points to encourage uptake of electric cars and vans and a review of the success of existing pay-as-you-go car clubs.

“Air quality and carbon emissions are two of the key challenges facing Greater Manchester,” says Lloyd. “A new report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said that outdoor air pollution is linked to the deaths of at least 40,000 people across the UK annually.

“This could mean that more than 2,000 people in Greater Manchester are dying prematurely each year from diseases and conditions affected by air pollution. We must take action to stop these deaths – doing nothing is not an option.”

Greater Manchester already has an existing action plan to improve air quality and NO2 levels and carbon emissions are falling, but it acknowledges that without additional action, it will not meet EU legal limits in the near future.

Jon Lamonte, TfGM chief executive officer, adds: “Greater Manchester has already made some headway in improving air quality and reducing emissions.

“But we need to do more to reduce air pollution as a contributor to ill-health in Greater Manchester, to meet UK and EU air quality thresholds as soon as possible and, ultimately, to make low-emission behaviours an important part of our culture and lifestyles.

“The need to achieve tough air quality improvement targets will require commitment from a range of organisations to ensure Greater Manchester’s continued development as one of the UK’s foremost city regions.”

The strategy and action plan does not make a specific promise on introducing a Clean Air Zone, and points to the potential undesired consequences of implementing such a policy in that it might simply displace older vehicles into other areas, but it is aiming to carry out a feasibility study into a possible CAZ in the centre of the conurbation.

Among the specific bus improvement actions identified are a commitment to “utilise new transport legislation to support the adoption and compliance of an appropriate set of standards across the bus network in Greater Manchester, and emission testing for new vehicles to ensure they achieve the required emissions standard in real-world conditions.”

Acknowledging the fact that the greatest benefit may be achieved by replacing older more-polluting buses, there is a commitment to identifying cost-effective ways of accelerating the replacement of pre Euro 4 vehicles. 

The document points to the quality partnership for the A6 corridor between Manchester and Hazel Grove which set a minimum standard for the 192 service to be Euro V and above from 1 Jan 2014. “In 2013-14, 93 per cent of observed vehicles were hybrid electric diesels, with an average age of 1.8 years. Partly as a result of all these measures, 72 per cent of buses observed in Greater Manchester in 2013-14 were Euro IV and above, with major operators (who run 84 per cent of mileage) having 45 per cent Euro VI or hybrid.”

The action plan also points to the emergence of geofencing techniques that could be harnessed to ensure that hybrid vehicles are using electric power within defined areas, such as key air quality priority zones. It also acknowledges the importance of driver training to ensure buses are operated in a way to minimise emissions.

The action plan is pretty lukewarm about pure electric buses, although it acknowledges their value for specific situations such as its existing Metroshuttle service in Manchester city centre. “Pure-EV will require significant infrastructure using dedicated charging points or inductive charging equipment in key locations, such as long-duration stops or terminals, and may also offer limited flexibility for use on other routes”.

Range-extending buses are more promising, according to the Greater Manchester plan, which expresses enthusiasm for trials of such vehicles as “they do not require the introduction of a significant amount of new infrastructure, and from a passenger perspective they are no different from existing vehicles”.

In addition to health concerns, the strategy refers to the economic impact of excess emissions on the economy, quoting from a House of Commons select committee report from 2010: “The National Air Quality Strategy stated that poor air quality costs society between £8.5 billion and £20.2billion a year. This impact is seen as comparable to those relating to physical inactivity at £10.7billion and alcohol misuse at £12-£18billion.”

And in terms of the impact on the city region’s economy, a study by Deloitte in 2008 concluded that, by not exploiting opportunities and mitigating effectively against climate change, the Greater Manchester economy could lose £20billion by 2020.

The public consultation runs until Friday 29 April, and the Low-Emission Strategy and Air Quality Action Plan are due to be finalised later in 2016.