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News release: Air pollution: our Government is failing to protect young and old alike from illegal dirty air!

news release

Air pollution is a public health emergency [1] and our dirty NO2 air pollution has been illegal since 2010. [2]   

Our illegal dirty air is:

* responsible for at least 1200 premature deaths each year in Greater Manchester. [3] 

* linked to asthma, heart and lung disease, found in brain tissue (4)  and damages the physical and mental development of children. 

* estimated to cost Greater Manchester over £1 billion per year – approximately 20% of our health and social care budget [5] .

* responsible for Greater Manchester having the highest hospital admission rates for asthma in the country. [5] 

Catherine Thomson, Manchester Friends of the Earth co-ordinator said:  “The Clean Air Zone should be there to protect people – so that fewer kids go to hospital with asthma attacks, so that fewer people die early from heart attacks and strokes and to alleviate the burden on the NHS.”

She added: “We are witnessing a frustrating political blame game at the moment. Government analysis found that Clean Air Zones were the most effective way to bring air pollution to within legal levels as soon as possible. Local and national leaders have had 5 years to come up with solutions to the air pollution crisis in Greater Manchester. It shouldn’t have come to this.” 

In 2017, Greater Manchester Combined Authority pledged to become a World Health Organisation BreatheLife City and to meet the WHO limits by 2030 [6] and in September 2021, the World Health Organisation revised their air pollution Guidelines from 40ug/m3 to 10ug/m3 for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and from 10ug/m3 to 5ug/m3 for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

If the Secretary of State, George Eustice removes the legal direction to introduce the charging Clean Air Zone it could be 2027, at the earliest, before Greater Manchester complies with legal air quality limits. [7]  However, this “Do minimum” approach is likely to see at least a 3% increase in air pollution emissions across Greater Manchester [8] in addition to higher emissions from more people driving instead of using public transport post-Covid and fewer people replacing polluting vehicles due to supply chain issues.

Pete Abel, Manchester Friends of the Earth sustainable transport campaigner said: “Removing the charging Clean Air Zone will not solve the air pollution health emergency in Greater Manchester. The Government has failed to provide the proper funding for people in Greater Manchester and beyond to replace polluting vehicles with cleaner ones. If the Government is serious about it’s levelling up agenda then it must provide all regions with the funding needed to match London in its ambition to meet legal limits by 2025.”

He added: “meanwhile the Government is funding a £24 billion roads programme and will possibly spend over £6 billion on the proposed M60 North West Quadrant scheme – and new road schemes will literally make the dirty air problem worse.” 

Manchester Friends of the Earth supports the Clean Air Zone and believes that there is little recognition from national Government of the scale or urgency of Greater Manchester’s air pollution health crisis and we are calling for urgent action by both local and national government to quickly and drastically improve air quality including:

* Clean Air Zones which must come into effect rapidly and include all polluting vehicle types, supported by greater funding to enable people and businesses to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.. Effective Clean Air Zones will lead to fewer, and cleaner cars on our roads, safer streets, more welcoming neighbourhoods and, vitally, healthier lungs for our children.

* The UK must rapidly phase out high polluting diesel and petrol vehicles. There must also be a government-led scrappage scheme to help people move away from the most polluting vehicles (with car club membership and alternatives to driving such as rail season tickets being offered), and motor manufacturers who have contributed to the UK’s air pollution crisis should be made to cough up to help fund such a scheme.

* Road traffic needs to be reduced – to meet climate change targets as well as those for air pollution. Traffic generating schemes such as airport expansion and road building and road widening which would add to the air pollution problem must be scrapped

* More investment in clean, affordable and reliable public transport

* An improvement in infrastructure to support alternatives to driving, such as safe cycling and walking.

For more information on what Friends of the Earth is calling for see



[1] Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee. 2016. See

[2]  The UK Government has failed to meet its legal obligations to reduce air pollution for over 12 years. UK courts first instructed the Government to draw up plans to meet its obligation to meet legal limits for air pollution in the “shortest time possible” in 2015 and the Government’s own research has identified Clean Air Zones as the most effective measure. [2a] 

In March 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the UK has “systematically and persistently” exceeded legal limits for dangerous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) since 2010, and has failed against its legal duties to put plans in place to tackle the problem in the shortest possible time. [2b] 

[2a]   See the Air Quality Plan for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the UK (2017) which stated that ““a network of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) is the most effective route to compliance for the majority of exceedances”. (Technical report, 1.6)

[2b] UK has broken air pollution limits for a decade, EU court finds

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See Atmosphere: Towards a proper strategy for tackling Greater Manchester’s air pollution crisis. 

“Greater Manchester 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. And evidence shows that the most vulnerable people and those living in disadvantaged areas are at greater risk from air pollution.”

[6] See

[7] See para 1.8. Therefore, 2024 is the first year of compliance with the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide within Greater Manchester. This is the same as produced by the Consultation Option, and meets the requirements of the Ministerial Direction for such compliance to be achieved by 2024 at the latest. Compliance is achieved three years earlier than predicted without the GM CAP in place. Achieving compliance in Greater Manchester is not possible sooner with the other options that have been suggested.” 

Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan to Tackle Nitrogen Dioxide Exceedances at the Roadside. Appendix 6 – Air Quality Modelling Report following Consultation and with COVID-19 impacts

[8]  Para 5.2.3. It should be noted that overall emissions in post-Consultation Do Minimum are approximately 3% greater than the Do Minimum scenario used for the Consultation in 2023 as a result of the increased age of the car, LGV and taxi fleets due to Covid-19. 

Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan to Tackle Nitrogen Dioxide Exceedances at the Roadside. Appendix 6 – Air Quality Modelling Report following Consultation and with COVID-19 impacts.

[9] Manchester Friends of the Earth is an award-winning environmental campaign group, raising awareness and lobbying for policy changes at a local, regional, national and international level. The group consists entirely of volunteers, and its campaigns are funded by membership fees and individual donations. Up-to-date information is available on the group’s website: Manchester Friends of the Earth is a Licensed Local Group of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

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